‘I felt very bad, I had self-rejection’: narratives of exclusion and marginalisation among early school leavers in Uganda
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Uganda has one of the highest rates of early school leavers (ESLs) in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the highest in East Africa, despite impressive school enrolment rates. While studies have been conducted on the possible causes of this phenomenon, little is known about the experiences and social world of these ESLs. This study aimed to explore the lived realities of ESLs by listening to their stories and experiences. The study draws from 16 in-depth interviews conducted with ESLs aged between 16 and 24. A narrative-based, qualitative method was used to analyse the data according to four broad themes: ESLs' experiences at school and eventual leaving, their feelings about leaving school, their life and work in the community and their future aspirations. Most participants in the study interpreted early school leaving (ESLg) as a bad and traumatising experience that undermined their sense of self-worth, limited their life opportunities and exposed them to social exclusion. Accordingly, interventions to address ESLg should not only seek to address the ‘risk factors’ for and causes of ESLg but also to rebuild the self-image of ESLs and to equip them with the relevant practical skills to help them overcome vulnerability, marginalisation and social exclusion.