Twice this year I have been fortunate to hear the very engaging Provincial School Attendance Counsellor, Tony Di Lena, speak about the persistent absenteeism issues in Ontario – northern Ontario in particular.
Persistent absenteeism is defined as missing 10% of school days – 2 days per month, essentially.
Last time, he was speaking to a group of parents.
Parents were quick to defend the absences. In the north, it can be a 4-hour one-way trip to the orthodontist, and all of the children in the family have to go, because the parents cannot get home in time for school dismissal.
Sports days mean that students must take a full day – or more – off school to play a single game of basketball in the north. Hockey tournaments need driving days. Grandparents live far away and family visits are important. Poor weather limits bus travel. Reliance on the 2-lane Trans Canada Highway means access to school is frequently cut off because of accidents and bridge closures.
It’s hard to attend school regularly even when you desperately want to.
So why aren’t we connecting children with the school remotely?
Instead of purchasing school computers and devices, why not purchase devices – with mobile data plans – for kids? A child in a car for 8 hours can attend school and learn remotely while travelling. A child at home on a snow day can synchronously collaborate with the classroom.
And that child away for two weeks to visit grandparents in Texas? Think about how much that child can teach her class about Texas! She is a resource for classroom learning, not a “make work project” for the teacher who has to “send work” for her to do while she is away.
We can do so much more to keep students “in school” even when they physically cannot attend. And we can start today.
Supporting Minds, Ontario Ministry of Education