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Sobering absenteeism figures

Chief attendance officer and team to target primary school children on the importance of education
  • Anzlo Strachan, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s chief school attendance officer. ANZLO STRACHAN

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Sep 11, 2017

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The success rate in getting students who are challenged with school attendance back into the classroom is approximately 85 percent, but the challenge is keeping them there, according to Anzlo Strachan, chief school attendance officer in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST). This information comes from a 2014–2015 academic year study to determine how many children were able to meet the ministry’s new requirement of 90 percent attendance.

In a study conducted by Strachan’s office, in which seven senior schools participated, with a total student population of 3,360 10th grade students, the total number of students below the 90 percent graduation requirement was 608, or 18 percent, according to Strachan. Of this number, 55 percent of the population was male and 45 percent was female.

With 52 primary, junior high and senior high schools on New Providence, and with officers assigned to only 13 senior and primary schools, Strachan said his office received just over 1,000 cases of students with serious attendance challenges, which warranted an investigation. If all schools were assigned attendance officers, he believes the figure would be more than 3,000 cases in New Providence alone.

With that in mind, Strachan and his unit of school attendance officers expect to implement a stay-in-school program in primary schools this month. He says the program will include a song about the importance of school and a questionnaire on students’ feelings about education. At the end of the program, the students will complete the same questionnaire to see whether or not the program has had an effect on them.

Taking the message to primary school-age children, Strachan hopes it will help students develop good school attendance habits, which he said has always been a big problem.

“There are so many reasons why kids don't come to school… lack of uniforms, footwear and what not. And even though social services is available to them, some parents are reluctant or embarrassed to get the necessary assistance. But the bottom line is, the assistance is available. They really have no excuse,” said Strachan.

And then there are those children who don’t go to school because their parents are basically unconcerned, and the children take advantage of it; or the parents go to work early in the morning, or sometimes the parents just don’t check, and it’s a case of child neglect.

“At the primary school level, I believe that the onus is more so on the parent to ensure the child goes to school,” said Strachan. “Actually, once the child is under the age of 18, the parents are really responsible, but however, you tend to give kids a little more leeway as they get older,” he said.

In another study done to determine if there was a difference in attendance between the high and low streams in eighth grade, it was found that there was no significant difference. Strachan said this may indicate that students in the high streams learn concepts quicker. The study, he said, was only done in a small number of schools.


The numbers

The school attendance office study, which looked at the reasons given for absenteeism at the senior school level, showed 59 percent of males were absent from school on a regular basis, with females presenting absentee problems at 41 percent.

Illness was given as an excuse in 29 percent of absenteeism cases at the senior school level, 21 percent cited financial reasons, one percent said they had to babysit, five percent were absent due to relocation and 13 percent were found to be uncontrollable.

At the primary school level, the absenteeism rate was 52 percent for males and 48 percent for females.

Illness was given as an excuse in 59 percent of the cases, 48 percent cited financial reasons, seven percent gave babysitting excuses, four percent was attributed to relocation with two percent cited as uncontrollable.

Three years ago, Strachan said he and his school attendance officers put a concerted effort into encouraging junior high school students to stay in school, to try to change the trend of absenteeism and truancy at the high school level. As they head into the new academic year, the attendance officers are repackaging the program with a focus on primary school children.

In a previous interview with The Nassau Guardian, Strachan said he believes there is a relationship between students dropping out of school or not going to school and crime in the country. After targeting the junior high school students, the attendance officers have switched their focus to younger generations to help them understand the importance of attending school, as well as help them understand that they should take advantage of programs offered to them at school.

“The Ministry of Education has a lot of programs in these schools, but sometimes kids can’t take advantage of them if they’re not in school — that’s the bottom line,” said Strachan. “So we could put the best program in the world in school, but if they don’t take advantage of it, if they don’t come to school, they’re not going to benefit.”

He said children have to come to the realization that there’s no one to blame but themselves, whether they win or lose.

“Their success or failure depends on them,” said Strachan.

“Looking at your past, and what your parents did, and the environment you grew up in, sometimes you need to put those things behind. Because we have kids that grew up in these same environments where guns are going off at night, but they’re doing well.”

The chief school attendance officer said they will also be looking at students entering seventh grade who displayed bad habits in sixth grade. He said their plan is to track those seventh grade students to ensure they don’t continue to “fall through the cracks”.

The incoming seventh grade students who will be monitored include children who were absent for significant periods of time and those who showed a pattern of absenteeism.

“An investigation will be done on those children, because we know that they have a very serious problem.”

In conducting investigations, Strachan said they speak to children as well as parents and provide counseling to both.

“What we hope to accomplish is to let the kids know, as well as their parents, that someone is actually watching. Sometimes it’s a lack of parenting skills, because we didn’t grow up with a manual on how to parent. Sometimes a parent just needs tips on how to ensure that their child gets to school on time, putting together a timetable for homework and whatnot.”

He said a study done by the University of The Bahamas indicated that students, especially junior school students, spend approximately six hours a day on social media.

“You have children on social media when they should be doing their homework. Social media has its pros and cons, but one of them, we feel, is taking away from constructive learning,” he said.

Through the program, Strachan said they hope to instill in children the importance of education.

“We’re trying to be as creative as we possibly can. We still have 10 officers. We do have a website, and the whole idea behind it is that we’re not going to keep crying for officers. What we’re going to do is use the same social media that these kids are on for six hours a day. We’re going to make an attempt to use that same medium in order to encourage kids to not just go to school, but [to understand] that education is important and that it’s relevant, that it’s a tool for them to get ahead in life.”

In order to graduate, guidelines that started with the 2017 graduating class, say that students must have 90 percent punctuality and a grade point average of at least 2.00, which must be maintained from grades 10 through 12.

Strachan said the previous year’s graduation rate was only 49 percent.




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