Ahead of the start of the new academic year on Sunday, Qatar’s Supreme Education Council (SEC) has warned that it will take action to curb growing pupil absence rates, as part of a raft of measures to improve education standards across the nation’s schools.
Earlier this week, Minister of Education Dr. Mohamed Abdulwahid al-Hammadi described the attendance rate at local, independent (state) schools as “unacceptable” and said that the SEC would impose strict penalties on students who took more than the permissible number of days off.
“Students who are habitually absent are to be banned from sitting for term and final exams. We are working on making regulations in this respect,” he said, as quoted by Gulf Times.
While the SEC has tried in the past to tackle attendance rates, this is the first time the Minister has outlined the penalties to be imposed on absentee students.
According to The Peninsula, the punishments will affect students from Grade 4-12 and will focus on denying them permission to sit continuous assessments and the first term exam, which form a key part of the curriculum and the results from which feed into their overall grade.
Starting from this academic year, these will affect :
- – students who are absent for 7 days in a row for no justifiable reason – banned from taking the first test;
- – students absent for 10 consecutive days for no justifiable reason – banned from sitting the second test;
- – students off school for more than 13 days for no justifiable reason – banned from taking the third test; and
- – students with more than 15 days’ absence for no justifiable reason – banned from sitting the first term exam.
Frequently absent students will still be permitted to sit the final, end-of-year exam, but their record will be mark them as a “deprived student” (“talib mahroom”).
According to SEC’s Schools and Schooling report, which was published last year, students missed an average of 17 percent of school days across all school types (independent, private and Arab), and were late to classes 15 percent of the time.
This low attendance rate appears to have had an adverse effect on the performance of Qatar’s schoolchildren.
In the most recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) PISA index, for example, which charts the performance of nearly half-a-million students from 65 countries, Qatar ranked near the bottom.
The test focused on math, reading, science and problem-solving. Students in Qatar ranked below average in all three of the main categories, though did make small improvements since 2006.
The report also emphasized the problem of attendance in Qatar state schools, with 29 percent of students admitting to skipping classes or days of school – higher than the 25 percent average.
Discipline before education
This is not the first time that the SEC has tried to tackle the attendance rate. In 2012, it introduced a raft of measures in a bid to improve schools’ performance, including encouraging parents to make sure their children regularly attend school.
However, the latest announcement of penalties for persistent offenders suggests the SEC is taking a stronger line on this issue.
Al-Hammadi said the drive to tackle absenteeism was part of an overall strategy of “discipline before education,” and said targeting parents was the key to improving attendance rates in schools.
“The main reason for this (high absence rate) is the lack of parent awareness about the important role of school in their children’s education,” he said.
Additionally, many Qatar schools struggle with “holiday hangovers” – low attendance rates particularly on the first days back after the long summer break.
In September 2011 for example, schools reported absence rates of up to 40 percent on the first day back of the new term.
Al-Hammadi also announced a number of other initiatives for the start of the new academic year, including a new Code of Conduct for teachers.
This will “enhance the key values that must be shown by the teachers and those who are working in the education field, most of important of which are honesty, impartiality, objectivity, diligence and efficiency,” he said.
The code follows previous similar advice previously issued to teachers. In 2012, the SEC published a list of discipline guidelines, including a ban on using corporal punishment against children.
The regulations were introduced just weeks after weeks a local school principal faced trial for repeatedly stabbing a second-grader with a sharpened pencil.
There are also plans to set up a new national center, to help develop the skills of teachers and education professionals.
And the SEC is working to employ more administrative staff in its schools, to reduce the amount of paperwork teachers have to deal with and enable them to spend more time in the classroom.
As part of an overall review of the national curriculum, more Arabic language, maths and science classes will be introduced, as well as lessons in national traditions and heritage.
Note: This story was edited on September 6th to include new detail announced by the Minister on the penalties to be imposed on absentee students.