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In my opinion: It's time to celebrate the brave return of early school-leavers

Autumn is a time for celebrating new educational beginnings -- children on their first day of school, pupils progressing from primary to secondary school, freshers beginning their journey in college. These stories make the headlines, and justifiably so. They paint a wonderful picture of Ireland's youth progressing forward.

However, there is also a cohort making giant leaps this autumn somewhat under the radar. These are the early school-leavers who have decided to return to education and training.

Whether it is in community training centres or Youthreach facilities, many young people have matured sufficiently to attempt FETAC modules, to tackle their literacy issues or work towards Junior Cert/Leaving Cert subjects.

Hundreds of young people have enrolled in programmes throughout the country that will provide vocational and personal development to those that need it most.

In Ireland, 14% of students do not complete upper secondary education (OECD 2008). This group of young people failed in school, or school failed them, depending on your viewpoint.

According to the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF 1997) the issue of early school-leaving is "among the most serious economic and social problems which this state must address".

The life chances of early school-leavers are greatly diminished and sustainable, well paid employment is but a pipe dream for most.

Side effects of low-level education include a myriad of social issues including crime, drugs, teenage pregnancies and health problems.

Early school-leavers come at a high cost to the Irish economy. The Teachers Union of Ireland (2009) estimated that those young people who do not complete the Leaving Certificate will end up costing the State €4bn over a 40-year working life, or €100m per year.

This cost per year is based upon social welfare payments and a loss of taxation income.

For an early school-leaver to return to education is a brave move that benefits the individual, their family and society at large.

The reasons for early school-leaving are multiple and include family issues, disengagement with school, learning difficulties etc. These issues don't go away easily so to attempt to restart a learning journey is challenging.

But there are supports in place to assist young people to realise their potential. Many centres offer counselling, mentoring and one-to-one tuition. The supports are only useful if the young person makes a decision to engage.

With an academic history of underachievement the decision to engage is often the toughest to be faced. It can be easier to blame the system, the teachers or society at large rather than face back into the world of learning.

For most of us the education system supports our learning journey. We are carried along to our chosen destination of Leaving Cert, degree or further.

For those young people who fell off along the journey and are now taking an alternative route I say well done to you! Your ambition to upskill and overcome many barriers is commendable.

Your fresh start this autumn is just as exciting as any other.

Irish Independent