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Minister taking steps to address truancy

Published:Friday | August 28, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju

The Ministry of Education will be appointing truancy officers as part of a concerted effort to arrest the chronic absenteeism among primary and secondary school students, a problem which is even more pronounced in western Jamaica.

"We are striking a relationship with the police ... if you are absent for more than three days without a communicated excuse, somebody from the school must go for you, and if there is a difficulty finding you, or resistance, they must carry the police, not to lock up the parents - we haven't got to that stage - but to ensure that the full strength of authority in the society is at play," Education Minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites told a Gleaner Editor's Forum on Wednesday.

A recent survey by the ministry found that the overall average attendance is 82 per cent, with girls spending more time in the classroom than boys. In addition, 1.8 per cent of these students drop out of school every year, with the figure rising to three per cent in western Jamaica.

"I don't have raw numbers, (but) you're talking about roughly 480,000 children in primary and secondary schools, but the point about the west is significant for us," the education minister disclosed. "The principal of one of the high schools points out that she has very grave difficulty keeping her grade 10 boys in school because they see some of their peers outside a drive big car and flash gold teeth."

Attendance improvement

Thwaites also disclosed that the 82 per cent average attendance, which he

considers woefully inadequate, is actually an improvement over the past three or four years.

"Prior to that, it was lower and also it tends to be seasonal, especially in agricultural areas," he shared, noting that the proportion of girls attending school on a regular basis is higher, with guardians and parents largely responsible for the children's ongoing absence from class.

"There is this pervasive cultural issue, which is that there are a lot of people in Jamaica and a lot of parents who don't really check for education. They think that it is something that can help you, if you bright, but it's not necessarily the most important priority, which is the motif that the Ministry of Education is pushing.

"Secondly, there are undoubtedly serious economic issues that affect families, and there is a difference between girls and boys because the proportion of girls attending is somewhat high - two or three per cent higher - which reinforces a cultural predisposition that the girl is probably going to do better ...," the minister advised. However, he admitted that the education system was also at fault in some respects.

"One of the difficulties of inadequate sanctions for misbehaviour in schools, which I was discussing with the JTA (Jamaica Teachers' Association), is that one of the most frequent punishments is suspension, but suspension is a let-off for most people who get it because they just go home, and they are away from school."

Explaining that the decision to put a cap on the chronic absenteeism by implementing a system that involves accurately tracking the attendance of students is consistent with the provisions of the Education Code, Thwaites said it also gets support from the Ministry of National Security.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com