How bad a problem is truancy in the Cayman Islands? Based on data the government has been willing to share — it’s tough to say.
Here’s what we do know for sure about truancy: The Department of Education Services does keep track of student attendance at government schools.
That’s one of two useful bits of information to be gleaned from the department’s recent response to a reporter’s open records request.
The other bit is that despite government’s lenient definition of “habitual truancy” — i.e. skipping out of school 15 days in a row — more than 100 students managed to earn that distinction last year. That represents 2.1 percent of the 5,077 students in public primary and secondary schools.
In the absence of statistical context, frankly we don’t know whether that’s great or terrible.
Last year’s habitual truancy rate is less than the 3.7 percent rate in 2005-2006. So it appears some improvement has occurred.
However, just like with school test scores, the government’s ability to declare some level of improvement in one or a few measures is not sufficient to demonstrate adequate progress overall is being made. So far, education authorities have shown extreme reluctance to provide the public with the kind and amount of detailed information on school performance that is widely shared in other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and United States.
Although Cayman government schools utilize the U.K. curriculum, the jurisdictions report figures differently on truancy. The U.K. keeps track of the number of “persistent absentees” (students who had missed at least 19 days of school in an academic year without permission). For the 2011-2012 school year, some 6.1 percent of U.K. students were classified as “persistent absentees.”
To give another perspective, Cayman education authorities release annual figures on the average daily attendance at government schools. For the 2011-2012 school year, the attendance rate at primary schools was 94 percent, with 3 percent unauthorized absences. The attendance rate at secondary schools was 89 percent, with 5 percent unauthorized absences.
Like a bikini, the government’s scanty statistics only draw more attention to what is being covered up.
Without more information, we must rely on anecdotal evidence, which can be untrustworthy.
But we believe the government’s At-Risk Youth officer Mike Myles when he says there are issues with children who skip school consistently, but show up enough to not be considered “habitually truant.” (For example, theoretically a child could skip 14 days, attend one, skip 14 more days, attend one, etc., without meeting the government threshold.)
The education department claims it has an attendance monitoring system that allows real-time identification of whether students are present.
Presumably the system allows for detailed analysis of attendance patterns based on any number of criteria.
If the government is serious about reducing truancy — or is serious when it claims truancy is a diminishing problem — then it should release meaningful attendance data. Additionally, the government should revise its definition of “habitual truancy.”
Three weeks’ unexplained absence isn’t “habitual truancy” — it’s a missing persons case.