Teacher Absenteeism: The Hidden Facts

April 20, 2015

By Moses Ngware, Head of Education Research Program, APHRC via Daily Nation 

Take yourself back to your school days. You’re in class and the teacher fails to show up.

What’s your immediate reaction? Relief and excitement, right? But did you ever think what impact this had on your school work? I bet you didn’t think about it at the time.

Back to the present day. The Global Monitoring Report — recently released — estimates a 20 per cent teacher absenteeism rate in Kenya.

While it is possible that such rates exist in certain counties, in Kenya the actual national mean is well below 20 per cent.

An African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) study shows teacher absentee rates to average 13 per cent, and as high as 17 per cent for teachers in public primary schools. But what do the numbers mean?

Teachers are absent from school due to three main reasons — illness, attending to official business and personal issues.

Teachers are human too, much as we don’t see it that way. They will fall ill and have personal problems to attend to that may affect their time on the job and performance.

When teachers are away on official duty — attending conferences or events — this can be easily managed. In our visits to primary schools, less than 40 per cent of headteachers in low-performing schools were present compared to 75 per cent of those in high-performing schools.

Headteachers play a role in giving instructional leadership, and they should manage cases of absenteeism. Schools should also find ways of recovering learning time lost when the teacher is absent.

For example, teachers already in school can take up the lesson time of those absent, then later compensate by having the absent teacher take up their lesson time when they return. I want to believe this is happening, but with high absenteeism among headteachers in low-performing schools, I have my doubts.



Pupils in a class in Korogocho informal settlements, Nairobi

Teacher absenteeism is not the only pressing issue. For those teaching in class, how well are they using their time? Currently, teachers plan their lessons — some don’t — and execute them based on the school culture, their training, the characteristics of their students, the subject content area and their own attributes, levels of motivation and self-drive.

An APHRC study in both private and public secondary schools, in major towns in Kenya, shows that between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of lesson time is lost during teaching.

How? The teacher is busy marking assignments, looking for teaching guides and other materials, closing doors and arranging seating positions, among other things that do not directly contribute to learning.

I am not saying that these transitioning activities are not important, but I am convinced that this is a manifestation of poor lesson planning or simply lack of it.

The huge loss of learning time inside the classroom presents a more serious issue than teacher absenteeism. Of the 30,000 primary schools in Kenya, the proportion of 13 per cent of teachers who report being absent on any given school day translates to an equivalent loss of at least 60,000 cumulated teaching days in a week, assuming 4.7 teaching hours in a school day and an average of eight teachers in a school.

Taking a 36 per cent loss of learning time inside the classroom, and using the same parameters, the loss translates to an equivalent of over 100,000 teaching days in a week.

These are the hidden facts and our major concern should focus on learning opportunities inside the classrooms — not on absenteeism alone.