Acting on a pledge to penalize students who have racked up too many school absences, Qatar’s Supreme Education Council (SEC) has barred nearly 2,000 pupils from taking their first mid-term exams.
According to the Qatar Tribune, some 1,900 children who have accumulated seven or more unexcused absences since the school year began in September were told they would not be able to sit for Sunday’s exams.
The mid-term exams are a core part of the education curriculum and the results from them feed into the overall grade.
While the excluded group comprises less than 2 percent of the 105,000 children attending independent schools in Qatar, the aim of the ban is to send a firm message to parents that high absence rates will no longer be tolerated in Qatar’s publicly-funded schools.
The SEC warned at the start of this academic year that it would take a harder stance on students who missed school without a good reason, with the Minister of Education describing the level of attendance at independent (state) schools as “unacceptable.”
At the time, the council said strict penalties – including being barred from sitting for exams – would be imposed on students from grades 4-12 who took more than the permissible number of days off in a school year without prior permission.
The crackdown is part of a drive to raise discipline and boost performance across Qatar’s state schools.
Previously, the SEC announced that frequently absent students would face penalties according to their rate of attendance. The punishments were initially based on consecutive absences, but the Qatar Tribune reports that this no longer has to be the case. The list is:
- Students who are absent for seven days for no justifiable reason: banned from taking the first test;
- Absent for 10 days for no justifiable reason: banned from sitting the second test;
- Absent for more than 13 days: banned from taking the third test; and
- Absent for more than 15 days: banned from sitting the final first-term exam.
Pupils would still be permitted to sit for the final, end-of-year exam, but their record would mark them as a “deprived student” (talib mahroom).
Earlier this year, Qatar’s Minister of Education Dr. Mohamed Abdulwahid al-Hammadi announced a new policy of “discipline before education,” in which he said that targeting parents was key to improving school attendance rates.
“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.
The level of absenteeism in local schools in Qatar has been high. 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 has a knock-on effect on pupils’ performance, with Qatar ranking near the bottom in international studies of pupils’ skills and knowledge.
Many private schools in Qatar have detailed attendance policies, stipulating the target attendance rate for pupils.
For example, Newton International School’s policy aims for a general attendance rate of 90 percent across the school, and warns that pupils should not miss more than 18 out of the 180 school days in the year. Those who do so would not be allowed re-register at the school for the following academic year.
Some other countries take a similarly hard-line on attendance at state schools.
In England, parents must apply to the school in advance to get permission to remove a child from school during term time. Permission is only granted in a number of exceptional circumstances (going on holiday is not a good reason), and parents who do remove their children from school without permission are fined and can face criminal charges.
In addition to tackling student absenteeism, the SEC is also working to bring up the standards of its teachers.
Earlier this year, it introduced a 10-point teachers’ Code of Conduct that outlines “core values” and expected professional behavior from staffers both inside and outside of school hours.
According to the Qatar News Agency, the teachers’ code is “derived from the doctrine of the Qatari society and philosophy,” and involves respecting Islamic values and national customs and traditions.
It covers topics such as communicating effectively with students, dressing modestly and working with parents.