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Robert Lightbourne Tackles Absenteeism

Published:Wednesday | April 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Robert Lightbourne High has been making efforts to tackle the chronic problem of absenteeism that plagues the

St Thomas school.

Speaking with The Gleaner, principal at Robert Lightbourne, Alfred Thomas, indicated that while the school still suffers from the problem of absenteeism, there has been a noticeable downward trend in the number of absent students.

"I can't give an accurate percentage because we are currently doing the calculations, but we know there has been some improvements because there are some programmes that we have put in place," he said.

The National Education Inspectorate report of 2012 for the school indicated an attendance rate of 66 per cent.

Thomas declared that when the figures are computed, that rate should see an increase.

"It has improved, because I know with the checks we have made with the registers and the interventions such as constant contacting of the parents ... . Also, the guidance counsellors have gone out to the community and in some instances we have gotten the assistance of CDA (Child Development Agency."

Assist students financially

Thomas also said the school has been able to assist students financially using proceeds from its agriculture programme, through which produce from the farm at the institution is sold to raise funds.

He said this is used to deal with the shortfall and delay of funds from the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).

According to Thomas, one of the main reasons for absenteeism at the school is the financial difficulty faced by parents.

"You find that the children can only come to school on the days when they are provided with PATH lunches, and even on other days we have to be providing bus fare for students and, when we are unable to, we have low attendance," he said.

Thomas also explained to The Gleaner that the problem is most severe among his fifth-form students, with some dropping out of school to work in order to provide an income for their families. This, he said, affects the school's ranking in Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations, as these students are still counted as part of the cohort.

The school has been receiving assistance from the Ministry of Education and the Jamaica National (JN) Foundation through its iLead initiative.

Dr RenÈe Rattray, education programmes director at JN Foundation, said, "We have helped them to create systems that will better record data and track the data on absenteeism and punctuality and look at solutions to address the problem."

Rattray also disclosed that absenteeism was a chronic problem in a lot of the schools with which she works, particularly those in rural areas.