Recent efforts by the Teachers Service Commission to curb teacher absenteeism are long overdue.
TSC has proposed measures to enhance teacher presence and these include the requirement that all teachers in public primary schools, including school heads to submit a written request to justify their absence from school.
This move is commendable and timely considering the effects of teacher absenteeism on learning outcomes.
Studies show that present teachers are a strong driver of quality learning and that teacher presence in school and class is paramount. If a teacher is out of school for a whole day, pupils miss out on precious learning contact time.
For a long time, teacher absenteeism has been a big problem in Kenya, particularly in public primary schools. Studies such as the Uwezo Learning Assessment report of 2016 shows that, on average, 12 per cent of teachers are absent from school during unannounced visits.
The World Bank’s Service Delivery Indicators (SDI) report of 2013 also revealed that, on average, 15.5 percent of teachers are out of school on a given day while 42.2 per cent are absent from class.
The biggest challenge, though, are teachers who are in school, but not in class and those in class but not teaching.
The SDI report further revealed that 82 per cent of the lesson time in public primary schools is spent on teaching while 18 per cent of the lesson is spent on non-teaching activities.
Teacher absenteeism is closely correlated to teacher’s gender, level of education, terms of employment and location. For instance, researchers have established that male teachers are more likely to miss school than female teachers.
The SDI report established that a male teacher with a permanent contract is 27 per cent times more likely to be absent from class compared to a female teacher employed on a casual basis.
Moreover, teachers with higher qualifications and those teaching in higher grades are more likely to miss school than their counterparts.
Teachers in rural areas are also likely to miss school. The Uwezo report of 2016 revealed that teacher absenteeism rate in rural areas is at 13 per cent compared to 11 per cent in urban areas. Teacher absenteeism negatively affects learning contact time.
For instance, when 12 per cent teachers miss school, approximately 2,520 learning contact minutes are lost daily (12 per cent of absent teachers on a given day (an average of 6 lessons a day, 35 minutes per lesson).
What is perpetuating teacher absence in schools? Among the leading causes of teacher absenteeism are participation in official functions authorised by the employer (in and out of school), sickness and health complications and the need to attend to family affairs.
Teachers in arid and hard-to-reach areas find themselves compelled to miss school as a result of hardships. Distance and delays due to lack of transport, especially during the end of the month when teachers go for their salary, keep them away from school. Parents think teachers miss school mainly because of lack of commitment, lack of motivation and operating personal business.
Clearly, teacher absenteeism is a rooted concern that needs to be addressed by all education sector players.
TSC measures to ensure teachers are in school and in class teaching need to be complemented with effort from the teachers, parents and local authorities.
More awareness, especially among the less educated parents, needs to be created on why teacher presence in school and class matters.
All teachers need to be held accountable, be motivated and supported so that they go to school and teach, particularly those in hard-to-reach areas.
Positive behaviour needs to be reinforced and teachers attending school and teaching well should be honoured as heroes during national holidays such as Mashujaa Day.