UNESCO Chair GHE

Absenteeism and final reflections / suggestions

4th June 2020 – Last updated 19th June 2020

National, regional and local strategies to reopen schools

Summary

  • Significant but varying levels of absenteeism was reported among students and – to a lesser extent – among teachers. The perceived reasons for this were fear of infection, unacceptable risk for people with chronic disease, difficulties for families in organising part-time school schedules with parental work and childcare.
  • Attendance was not being mandated and this made it all too easy for students and families to continue home schooling rather than return.
  • There was concern about absence among vulnerable students, and the education gaps that would follow.
  • Final reflections and suggestions from survey respondents underlined the interlinkage between the return to school and other aspects of population recovery from the pandemic.
  • The hybrid school system caused challenges for parents who needed to return to full-time work or arrange childcare.
  • The experience from this process could improve the next transition by trusting local staff, recognising their efforts so far, giving clear and consistent decisions, and supporting staff and students with equipment, information and training.
  • Looking ahead to build mental and physical health resilience for the population, and to reorganise preventive and public health systems, might improve the response to future crises.

Reflections on Absenteeism

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Most respondents reported absenteeism among students and staff, although a number said that all teachers had returned. The most common reason they perceived for absence was fear of infection. Some said that this was linked to a lack of trust in the authorities, and that the media had a role in spreading this anxiety. Another reason for absence was among teachers and students at high risk of serious complications from the infection – principally those with chronic illness. There were some perceptions of difficulties for parents – the part-time nature of schooling during the return made work and childcare very difficult to manage. The fact that governments were not mandating attendance gave families the option to continue home schooling and students might simply not wish to return. All these reasons made the re-establishment of normal education routines difficult. There were specific concerns about children in hard-to-reach families not returning and resultant education gaps.

Vulnerable staff, as well as vulnerable students, have the possibility to  stay at home. Some schools have to deal with some anxiety amongst parents, who are scared to send their children back to school. (Mrs Muriel Weltens, The Netherlands)

Very few [absences] for staff, but some vulnerable students seem to have difficulty to find the way back to the normal school routine. (Dr Marie-Anne Persoons, Belgium)

At the level of teachers, absenteeism is very dependent on the state of mind of the teams and in particular on the perception of risks by directors and principals. Absenteeism is important for children in certain disadvantaged areas due to mistrust of “official” speech and fears of infection that are difficult to overcome. (Dr Chantal Bauer, France, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur)

Absenteeism policy has recently changed due to Covid-19 and absenteeism is allowed for health reasons. (Greece)

Yes, [being a] vulnerable person and childcare for staff, organizational problem – family/work for parents of students (at the start there was no daycare in the morning or in the evening). (France, Auvergne Rhône Alpes)

Fear through the media discourages vulnerable families and colleagues. (France, Normandy)

Final Suggestions and Comments from Respondents

In their final opportunity to provide reflections and suggestions, it was apparent that the return to school was seen by respondents as an important aspect of the country’s recovery from the pandemic. This meant that it carried risk as well as benefit, and that it was inter-linked with many other aspects of the population’s concerns. Some wondered whether the public health measures would be sustainable in schools, and there was fear of a resulting second wave. Frustration was reported with detailed guidance that was difficult to implement: some felt that better communication from Government, and strengthening of public health and preventive health measures were now needed. There was some uncertainty about the next transition that would eventually come, and the future of the hybrid system. By trusting the staff, and making strong decisions with enough notice to enable implementation, the situation might improve. Better recognition of the efforts of staff so far would also be appreciated. Good training and information to improve everyone’s mental and physical health would provide future resilience.

More motivation to improve the behaviours and follow the measures, because the virus is still with us. Therefore it promotes social skills to improve social responsibility. To take care of our mental health we must be resistant to the virus physically and mentally and the most appropriate measures are information and training. (Spain)

Better governmental communication and organisation of public health (prevention and care) required. Nothing clear. Change all the time. 63 pages as a health-care protocol just impossible to apply in school. (Mme Pauline Chazot, France, Gard)

Develop a real program around executive and communication skills (not the use of the internet but knowing how to communicate with others) for the children of today so that the adults of tomorrow can better cope collectively with the crises of all orders that they will inevitably live through. (Prof Émeline Joigny, France)

Ÿ Maximize utilization of radio broadcasting instruction Ÿ use of community loud speakers to promote messages Ÿ maximize utilization of social media for consultation meetings Ÿ promotion of [Information, Education & Communication] IEC materials and training. (Ma. Luisa M. Dominguez, The Philippines)

Trust staff in schools and support them in [their] doubts and questions. (Mme Françoise Gillot-Gravouil, France, Loire-Atlantique)

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