On a test, 80% may sound like a good grade. Yet 80% attendance is very concerning. It is the same as missing one full school day per week. At that rate, by grade 4 the average student has already missed half a year of school. By grade 10, they have missed 2 full years. Non-attendance is clearly an urgent concern.
Attendance concerns are not unique to the NWT. The rise of non-attendance is an issue talked about at national and international levels. It is a common challenge in many countries to find effective ways of encouraging students to not only attend, but fully engage in school.
Solutions like giving prizes, visually tracking results, or even fining parents, are not effective. They may result in some short-term improvements, but this does not mean there will be improved engagement of students in their learning or a positive impact on student achievement. These kinds of solutions are also difficult to keep up.
The idea is simple: ‘students need to attend school daily to succeed’. But research indicates that the issue and the reasons for non-attendance are more complex. Non-attendance is a symptom of a much deeper condition. It exists in an education system that needs renewal and innovation to be relevant and motivating to today's students.
How do students learn best? What are students motivated to learn? What competencies do capable people need? What family, financial, health, personal, and/or academic realities are students dealing with? How is student learning connected to their everyday lives and communities? These are some of the questions that must be addressed to get to the heart of attendance issues.
When students are truly engaged, have their specific needs and interests met, feel they belong and that teacher’s care for them, when the curriculum is relevant and teachers are able to make learning motivating, students will attend school. Student attendance is really the product of a strong school, not the reason for a school’s strength.