Traditionally, universities are meant to be a rite of passage, a coming of age for students and a place for maturation of autonomous adults as it is also about education and training (Holdford, J.C. 2007). It is a place for students to be actively involved, debate, learn and challenge their intellect however this does not display the obligation of class attendance (Bourgeois et al. 1999). Among the benefits of being in university is freedom, nonetheless it has become problematic as it has become a stumbling block amongst students. Due to relative freedom students tend to frequently miss classes or absent themselves deliberately knowing that parents and educators are not going to push them to.
Numerous reasons from studies are given as to why students do not attend classes and most of these reasons suggest that students don't take class attendance seriously or as priority (Fjortoft, N. 2005). Thus they do not perceive attendance as compulsory and important. Lack of class attendance amongst university student has become problematic, and an emerging challenge to the lecturers as well as the institutions of higher education. Studies show that absenteeism can be unproductive and tiresome as it a 'waste of educational resources, time and human potential. Student absenteeism also causes rework and wasted time for lecturers' Wadesango, N and Machingambi, S (2011).
Despite the strategies implemented by both the lecturers and universities to ensure maximum attendance by students there still is a high rate of students who do not attend classes. Previous research has shown that not only does class attendance affect student's grades but also has a long effect of student having little or no knowledge on their discipline of which they could practically apply in the work environment. However some studies have shown that class attendance and course grades have an inverse relationship that is course grades are not entirely dependent on class attendance. Students who frequently attend classes tend to do better but not excel and students who infrequently attend class can also do better as their counterparts (Holdford, J.C. 2007). Also research undertaken has demonstrated that there is no relationship between academic performance, even though attendance improves academic performance does not improve as well.
This research aims to investigate the extent of class absenteeism, reasons why students do not attend classes and examines the implications of student absenteeism and whether or not there is a relationship between academic performance and class attendance.
Reasons why students do not attend classes
According to the university policies there are two types of absences which are excused and unexcused absences. Excused absences are when the university gives permission to a student for certain period of time to be absent due to illness, grievance and under compassionate grounds whereas unexcused absences are when students intentionally absent themselves without a valid reason and without permission from the university. Researchers have tackled the question why students attend classes and why they do. On their recent study on three South African universities Wadesango and Machingambi (2011) discovered that attendance is 'rampant among students due to reasons such as; unfavourable learning conditions, uninteresting or boring lectures, poor teaching strategies by lectures (lecturer reads through slides- they do not want to attend read aloud sessions), students think they can do self study, too much socialisation, they had to catch up or there was a big test and assignment coming up, part-time jobs to augment meagre bursaries granted by various sponsors and poor relations with the lecturer and some absent themselves due to factors beyond their control such as illness. Clearly some of these reasons are completely valid and occur as a consequence of life circumstances, life events and the changing profile of the student. However, a number of the reasons for absenteeism offered by students appear to be quite trivial in nature and give rise to the question of how much students actually value educational activities such as lectures and tutorials.
Effects of student absenteeism
Previous researchers have argued that lecture attendance is a significant facilitator of academic success Moore, et al (2008) that is there are disadvantages of absenteeism; students who infrequently attend class are more likely to have poor academic performance compared to ones who attend on a regular basis. Thus they miss on instruction and emphasis on certain concepts (whereby lecturer highlight the most important facts of the syllabus). They also miss out on examples given by lecturers to clarify difficult concepts. Also lecturers provide a means of direct learning, provides an accessible source and verbal assistance Gartherer and Manning (1998, p. 123) as quoted by Moore, et al (2008) ''lecture attendance and academic performance may be an indicator that lecturers provide students with information and orients that they are less likely or less able to access outside of scheduled teaching times even in emerging educational environments' Moore, et al (2008, p.17)
Research shows that students who normally did not attend classes have no practical application skills thus they fail to apply knowledge of their particular discipline in the work place (especially in practical jobs such as nursing, engineering etc.) absenteeism has a negative effect on the university and the departments because it cause rework, and havoc making lecturers to be impatient and frustrated. Thus it creates unfavourable learning environment conditions where there is no productivity as lectures are forced to repeat the information and previous lectures so that students can catch up so as to avoid students who repeat the discipline occupying the space for other applicants. However the university, department and lecturers have the right to deny the student admission to exam due to failure of attendance even though their marks reach exam entry requirements.
Student attendance and academic performance do not necessarily correlate. Those students who frequently absent themselves do perform better even but do not excel. That is, through self-study and online notes students are able to catch up. Also students who regularly attend perform better and not excel that class attendance does not facilitate academic performance. Therefore an increase in class attendance doesn't facilitate an increase in academic performance. There are other factors such as personality, intelligence, determination and biological factors which contribute to academic performance. Though absenteeism has many negative effects and ill-advised, it does not necessarily mean that to improve academic performance students ought to attend classes, the reasons given by students and their motivation to attend class suggest that students do not take class attendance as priority or important. Even though the justifications of absenteeism seem to be of factors beyond the control of students, there are other reasons which are implicitly given. Thus there are psychological reasons given which suggest the low self-esteem; discipline, has a large mental challenge for students and avoidance (they prefer not to face the difficulties of the module). Therefore they would not rather go to class but occupy themselves with something else.
Bourgeois, E., Duke, C., Guyot, J. L., & Merrill, B. (1999). The adult university. Milton Keynes,, England: Open University Press.
Cleary-Holdforth, J. (2007). Student non-attendance in higher education. A phenomenon of student apathy or poor pedagogy. Level 3: Dublin Institute of Technology online publication, 5.
Fayombo, G. A., Ogunkola, B. J., & Olaleye, Y. L. (2012). Cross Institutional Study of the Causes of Absenteeism among University Students in Barbados and Nigeria. Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology, 2(1).
Fjortoft, N. (2005). Students' motivations for class attendance. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 69(1), 107-112.
Moore, S., Armstrong, C., & Pearson, J. (2008). Lecture absenteeism among students in higher education: a valuable route to understanding student motivation. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 30(1), 15-24.
Wadesango, N., & Machingambi, S. (2011). Causes and Structural Effects of Student Absenteeism: A Case Study of Three South African Universities. J Soc Sci, 26(2), 89-97.
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