This question is asked by students all the time. It doesn’t matter what their age, what they are studying, who is paying the bills, or how dedicated to their long-term plans they are, students question their purpose for being in school and engaging in the curriculum and instruction.
For some students, the question is answered by a sense of future identity. The answer, “Because I want to be a doctor” is sufficient for them to refocus on their studies. These students choose to both attend and engage.
For other students, the question is answered by the fact they are compelled to attend school. They have no choice; they must attend school. For them, the answer may be “holding this seat down until I don’t have to be here anymore.” Sadly, these students will attend, but not engage; whatever the intended outcome of the school, they are unlikely to achieve it.
For other yet other students, the question cannot be answered with a sufficiently compelling reason, so they leave.
Schools provide value to individuals but mor importantly to society. Just like science is the best strategy we have to develop understanding of the natural world (including things like vaccinations and climate change despite misguided political denial of nature), formal education is the best strategy we have to improve society. We share or cultural knowledge through education. When it is done right, education is how we share knowledge from other cultures as well, we challenge all knowledge, and we create new knowledge when education is robust.
Those students who disengage or leave… they have much to tell us. Maybe we start listening?