Study on the Definitions and Categories of Absenteeism

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The purpose of the literature review is to justify absences in order to determine its fundamental causes. The amount of research which exists on school absenteeism witnesses both the existence and consequences of the problem. This issue is without doubt a very critical problem whose consequences is not restricted to students only but extends to the progress of the entire community and stands as a threat to the national economic growth. As a result, not only is the identification of the factors important but the proposed strategies for the improvement and gradual elimination of the problem are equally vital.

The first part of this section shall reveal a representative discussion on some of the various categories of definitions on students' absenteeism published during the last few years from a variety of perspectives. The second part discusses on previous research on students' absenteeism and the causal factors that are considered as sources of such issues.

2.1 DEFINITIONS AND CATEGORIES OF ABSENCES

Absenteeism is the continual interruption of attendance (Gove: 6). It can be simply defined as a failure to appear, especially for work or any other duty. Therefore, based on my research the term student absenteeism refers as a situation where a learner is not at school for an entire day. But this definition is certainly too unclear to give a complete view of the problem. In order to avoid confusion regarding definitional issues the present study has categorized it into specific terms.

Excused absences are justified absences from school for any reason recognized as legitimate, for example, attendance at religious ceremonies, illness of the pupil or a member of the pupil's family, or death in the home (Good:3). On the other hand, unexcused absences refer to absences from school for reasons that are not recognized as legitimate, for example, absence because of play, truancy, illegal work, etc. (Good:3).

However, one of the most common forms of unexcused absences is truancy (Brandibas, 2005; Broadwin, 1932; Johnson et al., 1941; Phelps et al., 1992; Warren, 1948) which is a vague term. Gabb (1994) argues that a child is said to play truant who is absent from school without leave. Truancy refers to the persistent, habitual and unexplained absence from school of a child of compulsory school age that occurs without parental knowledge or consent. Also, unauthorized absences may include truancy, occasional absenteeism, school refusal, school withdrawal and dropping out. Suspensions and expulsions may also be accounted as unauthorized absences. On the other hand, the term fractional truancy has been used to refer to unauthorized absences from school due to lateness, leave early or skip of specific lesson or groups of lessons which seems to be uncontrollable. Researchers like Stickney and Miltenberger (1998) and Malcolm et al (2003) have also used the term school refusal synonymously with absenteeism. School refusal refers to absence by children who refuse to attend school in the face of persuasion and punishment by parents, and possible school discipline. This form of absenteeism is widely recognized as a disorder involving persistent non attendance at school, excessive anxiety and physical complaints.

Thus, the review of the various categories of definitions of absenteeism is not enough, as the main focus of this study is on the different factors that contribute to this problem. Consequently, not only is the identification of the causal factors significant but the plan of strategies for the improvement and eventual eradication of the issue are equally important. With the abundance of academic literature on the causes and solutions of the phenomenon, this will surely help to clarify my study with a better guidance and proper use of energies and resources in the right direction. This is so, as different researchers have taken different possibilities in investigating the problem from the psychological, social, economical and management perspectives. Hence, the subsequent sections that will follow shall demonstrate various literatures on these perspectives.

2.2 CAUSAL FACTORS

2.2.1 THE PSYCHOLOGICAL PERCEPTION

From past research, it has been noted that psychologists have taken a great interest in the causes of, and solutions to, absenteeism. Accordingly, this has led to a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. Within the context of this particular perception, a number of causal factors have been identified.

A considerable part of the literature on the psychological dimensions of absenteeism has argued that the problem comes from different aspects. Corville et al. (1998); Lotz & Lee (1999) find that students that are frequently absent from school have low self-esteem, are less competent in their social relations, perceive less cohesion in their families, less parental acceptance and inconsistent discipline, and indicate less satisfaction regarding school characteristics and personnel. Within the school system, it may be the result of labeling and tracking that create this low self-esteem and negative self-image and hence this becomes a cause for absenteeism for the students. While students with low self-esteem have an ability to feel part of the school culture, they may become frustrated and bored with school, and dislike the teachers, and any form of authority (Bell et al, 1994; Scott & Dinham, 2005). Skues, Cunningham, and Pokharel (2005) note that students bullied by peers tend to exhibit less self-esteem and are less motivated to perform well at school.

Low motivation, expressed as lack of interest and lack of engagement is linked with the notion of self-esteem and the intrinsic sense of belonging and self-worth. Thompson and Perry (2005) suggested that students who experience low motivation often perform poorly in academic situations.

Further, Johnson (1941) and Daleiden & Chorpita (1999) believe that school phobia is also an important factor that contributes to absenteeism. The term "school phobia" is termed as a separation anxiety: that is, intense distress following anticipated or actual separation from others, especially the mother. The child develops a feeling of acute anxiety and begins to feel guilty about leaving the mother to attend school. Moreover, Lauchlan (2003), Egger, Costello, and Angold (2003) examined the association between anxious school refusal, truancy and psychiatric disorders in middle school students and found that the majority of the sample had a psychiatric disorder.

Also, some physical factors including physical health and psychological well-being may contribute to the phenomenon. Closs (2000) contends that the major cause of absence, namely, health reasons may be addressed both to support the education of students whose absence is inevitable and to improve the school attendance of students whose health may not otherwise permit it.

As it can be noticed from the above declaration, psychological variables are key determinants of absenteeism. Within the context of this finding, one of the solutions to absenteeism appears to lie in the reinforcement of students' sense of belonging both through the enhancement of teachers' levels of professional commitment and the design of school cultures which will bring about a sense of attachment and reliability among the students.

2.2.2 THE SOCIAL PERCEPTION

The literature on psychological factors influencing absenteeism is hardly restricted to an analysis. Thus, an investigation of the sociological variables is of great importance. This is so as not only the students themselves contribute to the problem but their school as well as their family backgrounds plays an important role.

Nowadays, with the process of rapid development that is taking place, we have more and more working parents. As a result, students receive less supervision at home than in the past (Lotz & Lee, 1999). Not only absence of parental supervision but also parents condoning absences by ignoring or supplying excuses when no valid reason is apparent, explains high rates of absenteeism (Kilpatrick, 1996).

Reid (1999) found that families are becoming increasingly ill-equipped to provide a home environment that is conducive to academic achievement. Stability at home is one of the major factors that affect absenteeism. He further suggests that parents should be educated to understand the value of their role in reinforcing practices which includes providing incentives for students who attend school regularly, while providing disincentives for non-attendance. Parenting style may therefore have an impact on a child's school behavior and motivation to attend school. It is found that the authoritative parenting style is the most conducive to academic success and high motivation levels.

Fragmented and reconstituted family structures and family size are also considered variables in the discussion on absenteeism (Wheatly & Spillane, 2001). Research conducted by Butler (2003) found that adolescents experiencing absenteeism revealed a tendency to have single, separated, divorced or remarried families. Statistics also indicate that the greater majority of school children either come from single parent or two-parent-working homes, with the implication in either case being that the primary caregiver is often absent from the house and therefore, not in a position to supervise education and attendance. Of greater significance is the fact that the absence of the adult primary caregiver generally means that the children in question have to perform a number of chores around the home, including, in the case of older siblings, the responsibility of the younger children in the house. In such instances, the children in question are often left too stressed out or tired to wake up in the morning and attend school on time (Pope, 2003).

The sociological interpretation of absenteeism tends towards the identification of class and familial conditions as the root causes of the phenomenon. Thus, to gain a fuller picture of the problem, it is imperative to review the literature on the economic factors influencing absenteeism among school children.

2.2.3 THE ECONOMIC PERCEPTION

The literature on the economic causes of absenteeism compliments the literature on both its psychological and sociological causes. As Mcewan (2000) suggests, the economic causes rarely operate in isolation but tend to give rise to already existent sociological or psychological factors.

Zierold, Garman and Anderson (2005) admit that familial and communal culture influence absenteeism but suggest that economic factors are at the roots of the stated. There is the predominant belief that students would benefit more from employment than they would from education. The implication here is that economic circumstances often force school students to seek part-time employment and as a result they have to shoulder other responsibilities other than their school work. Parcel and Dufur (2001) maintain that students who come from lower socio-economic class than the majority of their classmates are generally subjected to verbal taunts which, besides undermining their self-esteem and affecting their academic performance, influence them towards deliberate absences.

Further, DeKalb (1999) suggests that this phenomenon is also due to the socio economic reasons such as the traditional marginalization of the poor and minority students. Thus, there is a lack of effort to attach these students to school as well as a lack of communication with the parents. In this case, the students develop no sense of belonging for their school and tend to be absent for long periods of time.

2.2.4 THE ENVIRONMENTAL PERCEPTION

According to Osterman (2000), if students do not feel at home in their school environment, they take it upon themselves to reduce the number of hours they spend in that environment per week, either by being tardy or absent. In line with that, Kirkpatrick, Crosnoe and Elder (2001), arrived at the same conclusion. They suggest that school attendance is significantly impacted by the extent to which students' sense of belonging. Usually, students who feel comfortable and at ease in their school environment tend to have relatively lower rates of absenteeism compared to those who do not. Also, Crosnoe (2000) reported that lack of sense of belonging at school is also partly dependent on peer influence. Those with high attendance reported that they had many friends at school and felt a sense of social belonging there and those with low attendance reported the opposite.

As we are aware for proper motivation of students, there is a need for professional commitment. Hung and Liu (1999) argue a correlation between student engagement with learning and teachers' professional commitment. Teachers who exhibit a strong sense of professional commitment usually influence their students' towards higher levels of engagement in their learning process and, more significantly, tend to have much higher classroom on-time attendance rates. Also, the punctuality of the teacher, his teaching style, his degree of verbal admiration and warning are all factors associated with pupils finding class interesting (DeKalb, 1999).

Moreover, school factors often relate to students' experiences of the school environment, and the body of literature consistently identifies several common experiences, including boredom with schoolwork, inadequate student-teacher relationships, being bullied, under threats or involved in fights (Wheatley and Spillane, 2001). Further, Wheatley and Spillane (2001) make the important point that the same characteristics, as outlined in various sources and linked to non-attendance, are similarly linked in a range of research reports as factors contributing to underage school leaving.

Furthermore, with the new era of rapid development and competition, there has been a drastic innovation regarding the acquisition of knowledge. Various ways and means are available nowadays for fulfilling the demand for education. Besides, with such alternatives available this has created a downfall significance regarding school and its environment especially regarding regular attendance of students. According to Petroski (2008), this independent approach to learning has become increasingly viable and accessible for all students through distance learning initiatives such as video conferencing, web casts, pod casts, blogs, Wikis, Twitter and privatized online learning programs such as Nova Net and Plato. These innovations allow students the freedom to access and respond to the information within a flexible timeframe and without the necessity for face-to-face synchronous experiences. Petroski (2008) also states that there are existing colleges whose students never attend a course on a physical campus. However, some have serious concerns about the pedagogical implications of introducing or casting audio or visual files of classroom content. Most of the concerns center on the potential drop in classroom attendance or in-class participation (Meng, 2005; O'Connor, 2005). Another overarching fear is that educators overprotect immature learners to become ever more passive in their learning and thus retard their development as self-learners.

Regarding other typical aspect of acquiring knowledge nowadays is through private tuitions commonly used in almost every country of the global world. According to Hai-Anh Dang and F. Halsey Rogers (2008), private tutoring is now a major component of the education sector in many developing countries, yet education policy too, rarely admits or makes use of it. Also, Hai-Anh Dang and F. Halsey Rogers asked themselves whether private tuitions increase parental choice and improve student achievement, or does it worsen social inequalities and impose heavy costs on households, possibly without improving student outcomes. This survey of the literature examines the extent of private tutoring, identifies the factors that explain its growth, and analyzes its cost-effectiveness in improving student academic performance. In the same direction regarding academic performance, Trevor Cobbold (2009) states that many other factors outside the control of schools also influence a school's results. These include student absenteeism and mobility between schools, the extent of parent involvement in learning at home, and the extent to which students are engaged in after hours tutoring. For example, if a higher proportion of families are engaged in private tutoring in any one year a school will receive a boost to its measured performance.

However, private tutoring unfortunately has been institutionalized and has become a threatening feature. It is the source of lack of interest for class work, uncontrollable conduct at school, outright truancy and induced absenteeism because of frustrations and tiredness (Ministry of Education, Mauritius, 1997). In line with this, Sylvain E. Dessyy, Pascal St-Amour and Desire Vencatachellum (1999) carried out a research about the reasons behind private tuitions and the various measures that will effectively reduce private tuitions. The result shows that private tutoring arises mainly because of the expected rewards obtained by skilled workers, and the use of human capital as a selection device for these positions. Also, pupils use private tutoring to complement the education they receive in public schools, and to increase the likelihood of winning the best-paid position in future. The proposed solutions of the research was finally about raising public teachers' wages and changing their selection mechanism to limit private tutoring.

2.3 FINDINGS

From the above, even though in brief, the review of this literature has tried to establish useful inquiries about how researchers have, with near-unanimity, defined absences as one of the most severe problem currently confronting the nation's schools and its children, the demand of designing and implementing corrective strategies for the reduction and elimination of absences are indisputable and widely accepted. Prior to that, however, it is important to acquire a complete understanding of the causes of absences and the factors which affect it. Thus, the above mentioned literature reviews have not only analysed the theoretical and definitional issues but have also provided a sound theoretical support. With this for the present research, it will be possible to build further knowledge and understanding about the phenomenon.

Academic literature and studies on absences have established a huge number of causal factors, divisible into three broad categories: (1) psychological (2) social and economical, (3) environmental. The causal influence of each of these factors, not to mention how they may be struggled or eradicated , shall be explored within the context of this dissertation using both primary and secondary data sources. In the next section, the researcher's strategy for the collection and analysis of this data will be outlined.

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