Stamatis Paleocrassas, Panayiotis Rousseas, Vassilia Vretakou

Pedagogical Institute, Athens


Recent findings of a survey type research showed that each year about 15,000 students drop out of lower secondary education schools, before completing compulsory education. Compulsory education in Greece does not contain a vocational training component and, consequently, these young people are inducted into the world of work without employable skills. The Organisation for Vocational Education and Training commissioned a study to identify the training needs of school dropouts, necessary for the design of special training courses for them. This paper presents some of the findings of the study and lays out the basic framework, which may be used to conceptualize the design of special training courses addressing the needs of school dropouts.


During the last two decades we have witnessed profound economic and technological changes which have had a dramatic impact on labour markets. Large and small enterpises, in their struggle to maintain a competitive edge in the rapidly changing global markets, make broader use of flexible employment structures. As a result they seek highly qualified employees, who are able to adjust quickly to changes and are eager to improve their performance throughout their working life (Rifkin, 1995). On the other hand, participation of unskilled and semi-skilled workers is decreasing steadily (Enquete-Kommission, 1989). The trend is expected to continue in this direction, which means that the demand for unskilled workers will be reduced dramatically in the near future (IAB, 1988). The effect of these developments on school dropouts is evident. Leaving school without any vocational qualifications ensures the prospect of long term unemployment , marginalisation and, eventually, social exclusion.

Globally few education and training systems offer a second chance to dropouts. Compulsory education graduates always have access to vocational education and training opportunities which lead to national qualifications, but there is little or no provision in the formal system for dropouts. The consequences are dramatic. Dropout rates in the European Union are far from insignificant. On average they approach the 12% level in compulsory education (See Diagram). In addition, 20%, of young people in the age group 16-24 years have never received a vocational qualification after finishing compulsory schooling. About 20 million school-age young people in the European Union lack minimum education credentials (Baltas, 1995). The impact of this statistic is manifested in the White Paper for Education and Training, in which, confronting social exclusion of young people takes priority and becomes one of EU's most important goals (White Paper, 1996).

In Greece, the Organisation for Vocational Education and Training, which supervises the National System of Vocational Education and Training (OEEK), took the decision to make vocational training provisions for school dropouts. Similar provisions are being planned by the Manpower Employment Organisation, which is supervising apprenticeship training programs in Greece. To this end, OEEK commissioned a research team at the Pedagogical Institute of the Ministry of Education to conduct a national survey focusing on the training needs of lower secondary education (Gymnasium) dropouts. Some of the findings of this study are presented in this paper, especially those which are pertinent to the design of special vocational courses for school dropouts. In addition, a framework is layed out, based on the qualitative findings of the research, which may be used to structure training courses addressing the special needs of school dropouts. The Greek experience hopefully will be valuable to researchers and policy makers in other countries with similar conditions, in their own efforts to find solutions and formulate policies which will provide training opportunities for school dropouts.

Survey on Gymnasium dropouts

This survey commenced in 1994 and was conducted in two phases:

A' PHASE: A census was carried out (from May through September  1994) to establish the Gymnasium dropout-rate. The method used was the "cohort dropout approach". With this method, which uses school administration files to record the progress of an entering cohort through to graduation or non-completion, it is possible to compare the number of students who enroll in the Gymnasium in a particular year with the number of graduates three years later. In this survey, data for three cohort batches were collected from all 1641 Greek Gymnasia (pupils enrolled in Gymnasium for the school years 1987/88, 1989/90, 1991/92).

According to the findings:

- The national (average) Gymnasium dropout rate is approximately half what it was ten years ago (10% vs 20%) (Drettaki, 1993). [According to estimations the dropout rate in the Primary school is roughly 2%. Thereafter the aggregated dropout rate for the compulsory education (6 years Primary school and 3 years Gymnasium) is 12%].

- Half the school leavers do not even show in the A' Gymnasium-grade (European 7th grade). - The dropout rate of males is higher than that of females [ males: 11%; females: 8% (cohort 1991/92) ].

- Differences were pronounced among the regional districts, among the prefectures and among the Gymnasia. The rates were much higher in Thrace and in the Islands. In the former case the high rates are mainly to be found in rural areas and are attributed mainly to pupils of the muslim minority. In the latter case (Aegean islands, Ionian islands, Crete) dropping out of school is mainly linked with early entrance into the tourism labour market. The broader metropolitan area (Athens) had the lowest rates. On the other hand, this area, due to its large population size, has the greatest number of dropouts (absolute frequency).

- The dropout-rate in rural areas (population less than 2000) proved to be higher than that of urban areas (population greater than 10000). Only insignificant differences have been found between rural and semirural areas (population between 2000 and 10000).

B' PHASE: Structured interviews were carried out with dropouts to examine the factors influencing their decision to terminate their schooling prematurely. From December 1994 through June 1995, ninety interviewers asked a nationwide representative sample of 1450 dropouts (from the cohort 1991/92 -aged 15 to 17) a variety of questions concerning school attendance, educational attainment, work involvement during the school terms and after dropping out, their occupational aspirations and plans, and their training needs.

These questions produced several interesting findings. Among them, the most critical for the design of training courses for school dropouts are:

- The low socio-economic and educational level of the dropouts. Some of them face additional problems due to sickness, divorced parents, one or both parents deceased, etc.

- Their diversified knowledge and skill background. They dropped out at different grades, with varied basic knowledge deficiencies.

- Their diversified work experience. The majority worked after abandoning the Gymnasium, mainly as assistant-labourer, in the following occupational fields: construction, agriculture, automobile maintenance and other services.

- The negative experiences, which they have accumulated within the school environment, attributed mainly to marginal achievement levels. The most important reason for leaving school was learning difficulties, mainly in Mathematics, Foreign Languages and Physics.

- Their declared interest in specific occupations and jobs, such as hairdresser, automobile mechanic, dressmaker, carpenter, plumber etc. The occupational aspirations of the dropouts are judged to be compatible with the Greek reality context, when one considers their limited formal qualifications (no compulsory education certificate) and their low-level skills, acquired through on-the-job training in similar jobs. The same holds true for their preference in self-employment vocations which generally promise relatively higher income.

- Their motivation to attend training courses, reinforced by their retroactive realisation of the usefulness and necessity of certified vocational skills in the world of work.


Designing special training programs

It becomes evident from the findings of the research that conventional, school-based vocational training schemes would not be appropriate for school dropouts. New schemes must be tested, which would approach these youngsters with special, motivation, pre-vocational and vocational training programs. To this end it is necessary to establish a basic framework, which would conceptualize the design of special vocational courses addressing the training needs of school dropouts.

Based on our findings, we propose the following basic principles to define this framework:

1. Because of the diversified knowledge and skill base of the dropouts, the structure of the initial training courses must be of modular form. Open-learning, individualized instruction and tutoring schemes should be considered as alternative methodologies.

2. The structuring of the initial training programs must facilitate the interface with continuing training schemes, whenever available in the formal training system, in order to broaden the prospects of the school dropouts for professional development during their working life.

3. Because of the anticipated low self-esteem of the dropouts as a result of school failure, comprehensive training courses should integrate remedial education, counselling and motivation components.

4. Because of the generally negative experiences accumulated by the dropouts within the school environment, it is unwise to select school-based training delivery schemes. It would be highly desirable to commence any training program with an apprenticeship term or on-the-job experience, which would put the dropouts at ease and motivate them for the consequent part of the program which would inevitably include some theoretical concepts.

5. Participation of the social partners (employers and workers unions, and the local or regional authority) at the local level is necessary, in all aspects of the design and delivery of the training programs, in order to minimize the prospect of unemployment following the training of the dropouts.

6. Depending on the socio-economic context, new financing schemes must be explored based on cost-sharing participation by all social partners, and on provisions from national and international resources.



Designing initial vocational training courses for school dropouts is a procedure which requires the cooperation of several specialists, each one of whom must be experienced in addressing special needs. Following the research findings in Greece, these needs are councelling, vocational orientation and guidance, modularized curriculum development based on the learning-by-objectives method, and local labour market analysis. The procedure also needs some validation and consensus by the local social partners, if the outcome of the training delivery is to maximize the prospects for stable employment for the dropouts. This paper proposes a framework for the conceptualisation of such course designs, which may be useful to other countries with similar socio-economic conditions.



BALTAS, G.(1995) Using Absolute and Relative Frequencies: Oikonomikos Tachydromos 18.5.95, p. 101.

DRETTAKI, M.(1993) Leaving Compulsory Education and Related Factors

ENQUETE-KOMMISSION (1989) "Zukuenftige Bildungspolitik-Bildung 2000": Oeffentliche Anhoerung von Experten zum Thema "Strukturwandel in Arbeit und Beruf und sein Verhaeltnis zu Bildung und Ausbildung unter besonderer Beruecksichtigung des Flexibilit aetsaspektes" (H.Schreiber 15.2.89)

IAB (German Institute for Work and Professions) (1988) Prognos-Studie, Mat AB 5/88

PALEOCRASSAS, S., ROUSSEAS, P., VRETAKOU, V. & PANAGIOTOPOULOU, I. (1996) Greek Lower Secondary School (Gymnasium) Dropouts and their Training Needs, Unpublished Research Report, Pedagogical Institute

RIFKIN, J. (1995) The End of Work (Athens, Nea Synora)

ROOM, G. et al. (1991) National Policies on combating social exclusion. First annual report-of-the-Monitoring-Unit, Commission-of-the European-Communities, DGV, Brussels.

WHITE PAPER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING (1996) Teaching and Learning towards a Society of Knowledge, SN 1091/96 (EDUC), Brussels.