The phenomenon of truancy

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3.1 Introduction

The purpose of the study is to investigate the phenomenon of truancy and then to characterize the nature and associated factors, to ensure appropriate management thereof. It is envisaged that, with more insight, effective intervention strategies can be implemented. Furthermore, secondary -education decision-makers may take results into account when school-attendance policies are reviewed.

The review of the literature presented in the preceding chapters reveals that secondary school learners continue to play truant and miss the educational opportunities provided by compulsory school regulations. Learners who play truant limit their own chances of acquiring the necessary skills to prepare themselves for future employment. We also looked at the different types of truancy, casual factors and various approaches that have been used to reduce truancy. This chapter describes the way the empirical study is planned and conducted, and will focus on the following aspects:

  • The research questions;
  • The research method;

3.2 Research Questions

The researcher together with the community of educationalists are concerned about the fact that learners continue to stay away from school by either missing the whole day of school or by missing certain lessons without permission from the school authorities and parents. Students who play truant defeat the aims of the vision of the educational system which is based on preparing learners for effective citizenship and employability. The follow are the main research questions that will be confronted in this study.

  • What is the extent and degree of truancy in terms of the frequency and number of learns involved?
  • What are the patterns, type or nature of truancy?
  • Where do truants go when not at school or in class?
  • What measures are used to monitor and manage truancy?

3.3. The research instruments

3.3.1. The Questionnaire

To answer the research questions presented above, data was collected by means of a questionnaire (See Appendix 1). Using a questionnaire is appropriate for a variety of reasons, namely because it is economical, it ensures anonymity, particularly when dealing with a large sample and it helps in developing a general picture to a phenomenon within a community experiencing similar conditions (Nardi, 2003; Punch, 1998). Upon careful consideration of existing questionnaires from the literature, the researcher has decided to compile a new one for the current study. The items that are included in this questionnaire are based on facts that are likely to contribute to exploring the phenomenon of truancy and are derived from the literature review. Some of these items are determined by the research questions set for this study.

The questionnaire employed for this first part of the study follows a quantitative approach. The decision to follow this design helps to explore reasons of absenteeism from students' perspectives, mainly through the following:

  • Absenteeism against gender differences;
  • Absenteeism due to age and form;
  • Absenteeism due to school background;
  • Absenteeism with no reason;
  • Absenteeism due to family structures;
  • Absenteeism related to repeated primary class;

3.3.2. Pilot study

Two procedures were carried out during the pre-testing phase of the questionnaire. According to Cooper and Schinder (2003), the researcher may rely on experts when piloting the instrument to identify changes that can be made with confusing items. Experts and colleagues included a head of school and my supervisor who are experienced in research were cordially requested to examine the questionnaire to check whether there were any items that needed to be changed or rephrased, as well the appropriateness of the time set for completing the questionnaire. The next procedure involved completion of the questionnaire by a sample of 20 Form 1 students and 20 Form 2 students not included the sample. The items in the questionnaire were therefore considered to be satisfactory in terms of both wording and format.

3.3.3. Validity and Reliability

Validity refers to the extent to which an instrument measures what is it is supposed to measure. In order to establish its validity the questionnaire was given to experts to determine content and face validity. According to Johnson and Christensen (2004), content validity is a judgmental act where experts check whether the items represent the construct which is being studied as well as the wording, formatting and scoring of the instruments. On the other hand, face validity refers to the extend to which the respondents will perceive the instruments as being valid to test what it is suppose to test (Black, 1999).

The extent to which the instrument will provide the same results on subsequent administration known as reliability was statistically obtained. The Cronbach Alpha correlation formula was used to calculate reliability. The value obtained is 0.83, which indicates that the reliability of the instrument is satisfactory.

3.4 Sampling

The focus of selection of participants for this study centres on students and educational professionals in schools. For the quantitative study, the target population is Form 1 and Form 2 students in the secondary school level. Schools identified for this research include State secondary schools and Church schools. State secondary schools include two types of schools, namely the Junior Lyceum and the Area secondary school students. In the advent of the educational reform currently being undertaken in the Maltese educational system, a new structure of colleges is incorporating both Junior Lyceum and Area secondary school students into one school. Data for this study is collected from currently amalgamated schools and non-amalgamated schools.

For the qualitative study of this research, a focus group with a number of educational professionals is carried out. Participants for the focus group include; subject teachers, PSD teachers, Guidance teachers and one Youth Worker. The qualitative study also includes two semi-structured in-depth interviews with one Head of School whose school has also been targeted for the quantitative study as well as a Guidance teacher from the Guidance Unit in the state educational sector.

3.4.1 The Quantitative Study

Six different schools have been selected at random, incorporating two Junior Lyceum schools, two Area Secondary schools and two Church schools. An average equal sample of respondents was collected from each category of schools and is including a balanced sample from boys and girls schools.

The survey questionnaire was administered to Form 1 and Form 2 students of the three school categories. The administration of the survey was carried out after receipt of approval both by the Planning and Development Department within the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education (DQSE) as well as by the schools targeted for data collection. The actual administration of the survey was carried out in collaboration with the school administrations and was mainly distributed through the support of the Personal and Social Development (PSD) teachers who administrated the survey and collected the duly filled questionnaires. The researcher eventually made arrangements with the school administrations to collect the surveys. The researcher also engaged in data collection procedures to collect data from schools within her reach.

The questionnaire consisted of three main sections, including (i) demographics, (ii) patterns, type and nature of truancy and (iii) policies undertaken at a school level to combat truancy and school absenteeism. Following the necessary clean-up of unsatisfactorily filled questionnaires, the total number of questionnaires employed for analysis consisted of 1000 fully returned surveys.

3.4.2 The Qualitative Study

The qualitative study incorporates two research designs. The first will be a focus group and the second will involve semi-structured in-depth interviews. The focus group is intended to collect data from educational professionals on the manifestation and policies adopted across the three school categories on truancy and school absenteeism. Identified participants for this focus group includes subject teachers, P.S.D. teachers, guidance teachers and one youth worker who is employed on a part-time basis by the Directorate of Educational Services. The interview schedule for the focus group is here presented in Appendix 2.

The semi-structured in-depth interviews were carried out with a Head of School and a Counsellor from the guidance and counselling unit. The interview schedule for these interviews was developed from the literature review carried out in chapter 2, the data obtained from the quantitative study and the feedback obtained from the focus group. These interviews are intended to back up the quantitative analysis and to provide additional insight on current practices and strategies adopted to combat school truancy and absenteeism (See Appendix 3).

3.5 Limitations

The initial plan was to include all students registered for Form1 and Form2 classes in the identified schools. A small number of students in each class were regarded as absent at the time of data collection. When applying for the relevant permissions, the Research Planning and Development department clearly indicated the researcher to restrict the research to a minimum of students, teachers, administrators, schools and to avoid any waste of time during the visits to schools. As a consequence to the restrictions made upon the researcher, a purposive sample of participants undertook the process of data collection for this study.

3.6 Data Processing

The nature of the data here being investigated reflects characteristics in the general population that should not bring out any differences between males and females on behaviours of truancy and school absenteeism. In this regard the statistical analysis will employ the non parametric measure of evaluation namely Chi square. Any observed differences will serve to accept or reject the null hypotheses on these parameters. Any significant differences resulting from this analysis would help to accept the alternative hypotheses from the sample of participants in this study, therefore generating grounds for accepting the alternative hypotheses.

All the data shall be analysed using the Statistical package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 17.

3.7 Conclusions

This chapter provided an overview of how this study was planned and conducted. This chapter has also presented research questions for the current study and identified the research instruments to collect data in this regard. The research design is constructed upon a quantitative study and a qualitative study with respected instruments. Elements of validity and reliability of the questionnaire and the pilot testing of this instrument present an excellent scenario for a valid data collection process. The participants for this study include students as well as teachers and other professionals working in close contact with the phenomenon here under investigation. This chapter presented a detailed review of the sampling method as well as the characteristics of both studies to be carried out. Finally limitations in the research design are also presented. The results of the empirical study are presented in the next chapter.