A missed school day here and there may not seem like much compared to missing several days in a row but frequent absences keep children from getting the consistent learning and instruction they need to build basic skills. It means missed opportunities for enrichment, re-teaching, and intervention.
Early school absenteeism and its consequences
A new study has found that children who were more regularly absent from kindergarten to eighth grade may suffer unexpected consequences as young adults, such as they were less likely to vote, had poorer educational outcomes when they reach 22 to 23 years old, and may experience greater economic difficulties.
The Ohio State University’s assistant professor of human sciences and lead author of the study Arya Ansari told Phys.org that the results of their study suggest that early school absenteeism should be taken more seriously. He added that there is a misconception, particularly among parents, that school absenteeism only matters when students get to middle or high school. However, early school absences do matter in ways that many may not consider. Ansari is also a researcher at Ohio State’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy.
The researchers used the data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s study of early child care and youth development. It included information on 648 students from ten cities in the US. The participants were followed from birth until they reached young adulthood. Ansari and colleagues also had data on the number of days the study participants were absent from school when they were still in kindergarten until eighth grade.
When the students were 22 or 23 years old in 2013 and 2014, various outcomes were observed. These include deviant or criminal behavior to parenthood, economic hardship, and political participation.
While the study found that school absenteeism is not linked with deviant, risky, or criminal behavior, it has a relation to economic and educational success and political engagement. Kids who were more regularly absent from kindergarten to eighth grade were 4.7% points less likely to have voted in the 2012 election. They also experienced greater economic hardship, including difficulty paying bills, and were more likely to admit using government assistance, like food stamps. They also have poorer educational outcomes, such as a lower likelihood of enrolling in college or having a lower high school GPA. The participants who were more frequently absent in school in their early years were further less likely to find a job.
Dangerous precedents of school absenteeism
Ansari believes that early school absenteeism goes beyond just affecting one’s education or how well they perform in high school. Instead, it has “far-reaching” consequences. Furthermore, if the student starts being disconnected from school, they end up being less engaged with society in a broad sense.
The lead author also said that those study participants come mostly from middle-class families so the results may differ for children, especially those who come from a more disadvantaged background. The negative consequences of early school absenteeism may be more pronounced among children from disadvantaged families.
Do results apply to school closings during the Covid-19 pandemic?
This year, widespread school closures have been implemented to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Students, teachers, parents, and schools were tossed into an unprecedented situation. While digital education is catching up, many parents may be wondering how the pandemic could impact their kids. Ansari said that the situation is different from what they studied. “These are unprecedented times,” he went on to say. Not every child is attending school. The differential access to resources and supports will possibly result in greater variability in outcomes when school resumes post-pandemic.
Ansari hopes that their study will raise awareness among parents about the importance of school attendance even among children.
Importance of school attendance
Great Schools, a platform that offers expanded information about important aspects of school quality, also emphasized that school attendance is a baseline factor in determining the success of the student. It may seem obvious is that a successful school starts by making sure that students come to school regularly and engaging the students. Yet, what is less obvious is that the consequences of low attendance are serious not just for children who miss school but the community as a whole.
For schools to increase their attendance rate, Great Schools recommends making the school a place where students and parents feel welcome. It should also forge a relationship with local law enforcement and make them allies in showing the students, family, and community that the school is the place to be. Talking to students about why they were absent and letting them know they were missed will also help. When kids are absent, schools should also consider calling the parents to let them know that they are concerned. Rewarding students for good attendance will also help the school encourage students to attend.
Out-of-school children, adolescents, and youth: Global status
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 263 million children, adolescents, and youth were out of school in 2016. It represents nearly one-fifth of the global population. But the number of children, adolescents, and youth who are excluded from education declined steadily. In 2000, there were 42.5 million boys and 58.3 million girls in primary age who are excluded from education. In 2016, the number fell to 29.1 million boys and 343 million girls in primary age. The rates of out-of-school adolescents who are in lower secondary age and upper secondary age were also observed.
Projected world population by level of education
Meanwhile, scientific online publication Our World in Data shares the global picture of educational attainment. It estimates that the world will be inhabited by more educated people. In 1970, there were only 307.65 million people in the world with upper secondary education but it projected that the figure will be ten times larger. By 2030, it estimates that there will be 988.41 million people with primary education, 1.40 billion with lower secondary education, 1.97 billion with upper secondary education, and 1.10 billion with post-secondary degrees. It also acknowledged that education is a fundamental resource for individuals and societies.
Frequent absences in the early grades can become a long-term habit. It can affect a person’s learning and thinking differences. Parents and schools should therefore not underestimate the harm of school absences.