SCHOOL ATTENDANCE – The Challenge Remains in 2016

This paper was published in the Suns Newspapers in January 2016. School attendance remains a key issue in NT schools. I offer the idea of reward that will cost little and may turn the issue.

SCHOOL ATTENDANCE NEEDS REWARDING

A perennial educational issue in the NT (and I suspect elsewhere) is that of school attendance. Some believe the issue only impacts on Indigenous Education but that is far from being the case. Sporadic school attendance is a universal problem.

Punctuality goes hand in glove with attendance. Students who are continually late for school, do a disservice to themselves and to classmates. Teachers have to go over what has already been covered. Lateness along with absence contributes to lost learning.

For teachers and educators, there is double jeopardy about this situation. Unless children establish regular habits of school attendance, there will be substantial gaps in what they learn. Yet when these students perform poorly in standardised tests, the onus of responsibility is placed back on teachers and their schools.

School attendance was identified as a key issue in the 2014 Wilson Report on Indigenous Education. However, in terms of recommendations, the report intimated that children attending for 60% of the school week (three days out of five) were almost satisfying the attendance requirement. That is a far cry from what should be happening and will not help overcome learning deficits. A good education depends on constant school attendance.

Attendance is certainly an issue dear to the heart of the Australian Government. In recent years, close to $40 million has been spent or committed to employing school truancy officers, to boost school attendance in Australia’s remote communities. There are similar attendance challenges within our towns and cities.

Recognising Attendance

There are several key determinants to success at school. One is attendance. At the end of the 2015 school year, Gracie Ah Mat, one of Wagaman School’s students gained media attention (NT News 12 December 2015). Gracie earned her school’s ‘Deadly Attender’ Award, commemorating the fact that she had not missed one day’s school in four years. A rare achievement indeed.

Without doubt, there would be other students, probably a significant number, whose regular school attendance would be worthy of accolade. If they don’t do so already, schools might consider recognising students for excellent attendance and punctuality.

Some years ago, the NT Government devised a Chief Minister’s Literacy Award program. One student in each class in every school was recognised for literary excellence. This recognition helped promote the importance of literacy within our schools.

My suggestion would be that our Government consider a program which recognises and rewards the school attendance and punctuality of one child in each class of every school. Intrinsic appreciation costs little. However the development of any program that adds value and recognition to the habit of school attendance is priceless. It won’t cost $40 million and could be worth a try.

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