Education has always been at the core of our nation’s human resource development. In 2006, Universal Secondary Education marked a new epoch which charted the way for every child to attend a secondary school. From then on, post-secondary and tertiary institutions have facilitated easier access for secondary school graduates who seek admission, by providing them with opportunities to further their studies. Strides have been made to strengthen the early childhood sector with the establishment of facilities which cater to the diverse needs of the child.
Notwithstanding these initiatives to strengthen the education sector, absenteeism has been one of the major issues that threaten to derail students’ academic performance. It is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic has touched every sphere of our lives as a society and by extension the world. The ramifications of this phenomenon are reflected in the increased rate of unemployment experienced by economies around the world. Although families continue to seek innovative ways to improve their socio-economic status, some parents are simply unable to sustain their livelihoods and encounter insurmountable challenges as they endeavour to fulfill their obligations. This situation could also impede their ability to adequately provide the financial means to guarantee that their children maintain regular attendance at school, and this could translate into increased levels of authorized or unauthorized absenteeism. Authorized absenteeism is sanctioned by the parent or the school. Unauthorized absenteeism occurs when children decide to miss school without consent. Irrespective of its cause, absenteeism unquestionably affects academic performance.
Researchers underscore the correlation of chronic absenteeism among students, with multiple factors such as drug and alcohol abuse, dropouts or juvenile delinquency. Absenteeism makes these vulnerable students susceptible to deviant behaviours which invariably result in suspensions, expulsions and possible involvement with the criminal justice system. The problem is further exacerbated when children begin to lose interest in school. Interest is an indispensable feature of learning and when children are not interested in what is being taught, they engage in truancy and concomitant acts of indiscipline.
Absenteeism also leads to a myriad of other problems associated with inadequate literacy and numeracy skills development. When children are absent for prolonged periods, they miss out on meaningful instructional time and the acquisition of concepts. Subsequently, their academic progress is hampered, because they are not privy to relevant information. Furthermore, the other students in the class are deprived of the opportunity to move forward, because the teacher would have to reteach concepts, instead of proceeding with the syllabus once mastery has been achieved. Additionally, remediation would have to be provided in order to significantly improve the learning outcomes of absentee students.
As we embark on another academic term, it is imperative for parents to be aware of the factors which may discourage children from attending school, (bullying, poor academic performance, school environment, health related issues, limited access to technology or some other problematic situation) and proactively implement intervention strategies which will create greater opportunities for students to engage in the instructional process. The axiom that a child’s first teacher is the parent is significant, because different parenting styles would determine parents’ level of engagement in their children’s education. Their commitment or lack thereof would be reflected in the measures that they employ to address the problems arising from absenteeism. Therefore, in order to mitigate its impact, the following can be instituted.
1. Maintain constant communication with the school, more importantly the class teacher via emails, text messages or telephone calls, to keep abreast with what transpired during the child’s absence.
2. Request assignments, quizzes or exercises which were administered. Technology integration has become the mainstay of education and with the implementation of online instruction via virtual learning platforms such as Google Classroom or Moodle, parents can also examine the possibility of supplemental work being sent to their children using these platforms. Of course, this would also necessitate that substantial time be provided at home for them to complete these assignments.
3. Take advantage of the programs that are offered, (school feeding programs, transportation subsidies) to alleviate financial constraints.
4. Inculcate in children that attendance is a vital requirement of the workplace and the cultivation of regular attendance at school, would augur well for their professional advancement in the future.
5. Foster motivation and a desire to learn. Apart from providing emotional support and guidance, encourage children to recognize the benefits associated with regular attendance and its correlation to learning. Regular attendance is extremely important in constituting an environment where children feel that they are making meaningful contributions to their lessons. For many, school is a place of stability and security, a place which fosters cognitive development, social interaction and acceptance so, why not send them?