School is not a long, quiet river for anyone, but for the young people who have dropped out it was a nightmare. These are the ones school could not help. Some of them have been absent from school several times and confronted with teachers throughout their schooling, while others have disappeared from the classroom suddenly. The teachers' observation is the same for all of them: they no longer attend their school, they have dropped out.
School dropout is not new, the term has existed since the 1960s. At this time, the phenomenon could easily be absorbed in the context, when school was not yet the only means of professional integration and unskilled labour was finding its place on the labour market.
But in today's society, where minimum qualifications or diplomas are required for any job, it is important that everyone has the chance to find their own learning path. The challenge of this project is to propose a solution to help the younth find their place and grow in school or if not, to accompany them towards alternative solutions.
In 2019, school dropouts affected 8.2% of French students. A school dropout, according to the Ministry of Education, is: "Any young person who leaves an initial training system without having the minimum level
of qualification required by law."
To find oneself in this situation is to risk exposing oneself very early in life to isolation, precariousness, unemployment or even depression.
Today, teachers lack the means to identify students at risk of dropping out and it is often impossible for them to act before it is too late.
As part of my end of studies project, I worked on this project as the only designer and project manager for 1 year. My work was of course supported and enriched by the many people I gathered around the project and by my tutor who accompanied
me and brought her perspective as a high school teacher all along.
At first, my task was to gather and synthesize all the information to problematize them in a design project. Then I worked as a product designer, thinking about the UX of my application, its visual identity but also its distribution and its economic model. I was then able to test my solution with high school students and collect feedback.
Identify the problems
Having never been confronted with dropping out of school myself, I had to become an expert on the subject to carry out my project. So I contacted people who have had to deal with it in one way or another.
I surrounded myself with a network of "dropout experts" to become one myself. Among them were teachers, support staff and Ministry of Education's institutes. These people, as well as my documentary and literary research, allowed me to understand precisely what dropping out of school is, to get an idea of it and thus to position myself as a designer.
Thanks to these researches, I was able to answer 4 research questions which seem to me essential to understand how to approach the school dropout by the design:
What is school dropout?
As we saw just earlier, school dropout is deifned by the Ministry of Education as : "Any young person who leaves an initial training system without having the minimum level of qualification required by law."
Why do one drops out?
First, school drop out can be linked to the scolar situation of the young people. They could face particular issues or questionning depending on their orientation.
That being said, there is actually a plethora of causes, life accidents or traits that can play a role into the dropout process.
Who are the dropouts?
Despite research and attempts at classification, it is not possible to draw up a typical profile of the dropout nor to predict it."There are as many dropout situations as there are young people in these situations and therefore as many different life paths."
- Sandrine Puppini, Project Manager, Ministry of Education
What is being done about it?
Thanks to these answers, I was able to formulate my problematic, the common thread of my final project:
How can the school environment and climate help open up discussion
and prevent high school dropout?
Propose suitable concepts
I then came up with concepts that, on the one hand, answered my problematic and, on the other hand, could fit into the context of French high schools and be accepted by the teaching staff:
Firstly, "Alcove" a furniture/space concept. A bubble to get away from the school during the day if the pressure is too high. Content and activities in this space help students to clear their heads or to refocus.
The second concept, "Lucioles", aims at creating and developing a culture of mutual help and support within the high schools. To this end, volunteer pupils could be the contact persons to whom other pupils can turn if necessary and act as a relay with the Dropout Prevention Group if required.
Finally, "Trait d'union" is a digital service that links students and adult volunteers from their high school in order to respond to the concerns of young people. To do this, a smartphone interface for students and one for adults that allows both parties to exchange.
Develop the concept by iterating and testing it
I finally retained and developed the "Trait d'union" concept. An application that allows you to discuss your questions and fears anonymously, to ask for help without being judged.
At this stage, the concept was in correlation with the uses of high school students (smartphone application, personal use that does not let people know if I have problems at school) and validated by the actors of my network and my tutor. My intention was then to quickly prototype it in order to have it tested and evolve afterwards.
My resources and time being limited, I needed a prototype in case I would have the opportunity to present it to users. So I focused on finding and organising the functions for the students. I worked with the following formulation for the features:
With a good list of functionalities, I was able to imagine a tree structure for my application. This tree structure evolved according to my personal reflections and the feedback I got during the project.
I did the same thing for the adult/teacher side and then left it aside: its functions are built opposite those for students and I will more easily get feedback from adults, so it was not the priority. The main features that came out of it:
- Select topics for discussion, based on teenage or school issues
- Discuss these topics with an anonymous person (an adult volunteer from my school)
- Consult content, organised along the same themes
For the students :
- Select the topics on which I can exchange with the pupils
- Exchange with my students and differentiate which are the new notifications
- Consult and share content organised around the same themes
- Have access to an address book of local actors around education
For the adults :
I was then able to start making wireframes, I used a UI kit to make my work more fluid.
In March 2022, I had the opportunity to present my project to 8 former school dropouts.
This exchange around my concept and my models was an opportunity for me to get feedback and to make my application evolve. For example:
"Do I have to be anonymous on the app? What is the point of talking to someone if I don't know who they are?" "The app can be used to keep track of exchanges and to justify that students have asked their teacher for help." "Not everyone likes talking on an app rather than in person, but it can be a good idea for students who are reluctant."
After that, I was able to develop my wireframes and move on to the final model. I then worked on the graphic elements and the writing so as not to simply make an application but an application for young people.
I worked on my components from the UI kit I was using at the beginning, making it evolve and in parallel I drew illustrations on Procreate.
- Some of the features came to light during discussions with my classmates or my tutor:
- Teachers can send encouragement to students in the form of stickers
- Students can customise the colours and icons of their application to make it their own
- The ability to make calls and video calls
- The ability to remove messages that you have sent
- Add breathing and relaxation exercises
At the end of the development process I was able to show my prototype to two classes of students in my tutor's school.
The students were very talkative about my project and their suggestions were very enriching. The main ones were :
Unfortunately I haven't had time to apply these changes yet... Come back later, who knows?
The final product
Trait d'union is a digital service that links students and adult volunteers in their high schools to address the concerns of young people.
For the students
Trait d'union gives students a way to express themselves without feeling judged. When they launch the application, they are given a confidence boost by an onboarding explaining how the app works.
Then they can select the subject(s) they want to talk about, and we will find someone in the school who can answer their questions.
Once the conversation has started, they can exchange with their interlocutor as much as necessary, always in chat or by organising appointments for a better follow-up if needed.
Users can also look for some content or contacts to help them, to answer their questions or simply to feel understood.
To make themselves safer and more confortable using this application, they can customise it according to their wishes. They can change the colors, patterns or icons used.
For the adults
It is a tool that simplifies the identification and management of pupils at risk of dropping out. It is also a new way of communicating with students and improving the school climate.
Adults have monitoring features to better understand the student's situation and how to help them, even if they are anonymous. The community functions allow teachers to share tools and methods throughout France.
I was pleased and proud to complete this project and to bring innovation and design where it is least expected. I think that design is in everyday things, not only in innovative products but right where it is needed.
This project was one of my very first as a project manager and I am quite satisfied of the way I led it. It had a difficult start but at the end, the results and first feedbacks I had on the application were promising.
It was also obviously a great learning experience. I met many people strongly involved in education and willing to help me and learn much about school system and psychology in a pretty short time. Having to collaborate with different experts and user so as to design a relevant solution is always a testing but rewarding experience.