– Education official
Although there has been no major research done in Guyana in recent times to substantiate the root cause of students’ absenteeism, it has been established that this problem has its links in both home/family and school-based factors.
Planning Officer within the Education Ministry, Evelyn Hamilton, expressed this opinion recently.
Basing her information on anecdotal evidence from teachers, parents and students, backed by data from the Education Ministry, Hamilton asserted that most of the factors that affect school attendance are largely outside of the Ministry’s control.
In examining attendance rates following the severe flooding in 2005, Hamilton revealed that after the floods there were indications that there was a big dip that ultimately affected the entire year’s attendance.
Such situations, the Planning Officer related, occur on a fairly regular basis in Region Nine where there are major floods.
“You will find a dip in attendance around May, June and July. If we look at our data we can clearly see the months where attendance dipped.”
She also attributed the problem to societal and environmental issues even as she reflected on the crime wave which had a few years ago besieged the East Coast and East Bank of Demerara. There was a major dip in attendance on the East Coast more than on the East Bank which of course affected the average attendance rate throughout Region Four.”
According to Hamilton, research has shown that absenteeism of younger students – nursery and primary levels – is more related to home/family factors, a notion which can be readily accepted in Guyana. Primary among these factors she noted is the socioeconomic situation of the family.
She related that financial constraints can result in children not going to school because their parents are unable to provide them with breakfast or because they do not have money to give them for lunch.
And there are those parents that cannot pay the transportation cost to have their children attend school, a situation which accounts for more absenteeism at the secondary level.
“Generally speaking children are fairly near to the school they attend so they can walk to school but time and again parents have come to me and said ‘I want to get my child changed to this secondary school or I cannot send three children to secondary school every day in a month’. So they joggle them. They send some, some days and others, other days and this brings the whole attendance rate down and it does nothing in fact for the children in the acquisition of the skills that they need at that particular level.”
Hamilton emphasised that although a 77 per cent attendance rate, is recorded locally, and does not seem too bad, it in fact means that a quarter of the time those children are out of school.
“Any school day that you choose, a quarter of our children are out of school or if you take it from one child’s point of view, in every single week they are missing a day,” Hamilton noted.
The socioeconomic factor could also contribute to parents’ inability to provide school uniforms for their children, Hamilton said, even as she highlighted that the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security has been intervening by making uniforms available to those in need.
However, the more controversial issue as it relates to students’ attendance is nestled in the fact that children are prevented from attending school because they have to be engaged in some form of employment.
“Sometimes the situation is not that these children are full-time workers, more often than not what happens is that they work for periods of time and very often they may not work for an external employer.
If you look at Regions three and six, or if you are in any rice producing area, and teachers can testify to this, there is a dip in attendance…it is not always that they are going out to work in a factory, but during peak periods of a family business they may be kept at home to help.”
There is also the fact that some students are forced to do work outside of the home such as vending even as some are made to stay at home, more often the girls, to look after younger siblings if the parents have other tasks to perform.
However, Hamilton did acknowledge that there are some parents who do not place the right value on education and therefore exhibit an uncaring attitude as it relates to their children’s school attendance.
“Research in other countries found that parents who themselves have little education are more likely to fall into this category and I suspect this may be true of Guyana,” Hamilton opined.
School factors that affect attendance are matters that the Education Ministry can more directly influence, and according to Hamilton, children may absent themselves from school because the programmes hold little or no interest or relevance for them.
She made reference to the attendance rate for community high schools and the secondary departments of primary schools which have a much lower rate than the secondary schools. And once children are not interested, Hamilton noted that they will easily revert to truancy.
Some parents may also be inclined to keep their children home if there is evidence of a shortage of teachers, thus allowing them to spend most of their time at school doing nothing, a practice which is common even after examination periods are completed.
For this reason, Hamilton said, the Ministry of Education should aim to implement programmes in schools that could see students being engaged with self-learning material even in the absence of an adequate teaching staff. (Sharmain Cornette)
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