Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The answer is not with the Truant

The latest announcement from Ministry concerning the additional money to assist with managing and preventing truancy should be applauded. Yet one wonders if we actually have a strategy to deal with it, other than get a better measure. Sure, MUSAC and other Student Management System (SMS) providers, through txt message service providers can notify parents of kids not at school - but that is only useful if the parent is interested, or in the case of many teenagers, actually has a real ability to impact teenage behaviour. In fact, most SMS packages can give a school a multitude of reports about how good or bad their truancy problem is. Neat, we've measured it. And it's bad and we already knew that - albeit slightly worse than we thought. What tools do schools have to actually influence this behaviour and look to change it?

The conservative in me might suggest bring back the cane and give em' a good thrashing. And for some, I suspect that would actually work well.

However, I am aware of some psychological research (add a comment to this message and I'll try and dig it out) that looks back at issues like depression, drug use in kids and marriage breakdown. Researchers were looking for "cures" for depression, for example, by studying depressed people.

Similarly with looking at broken down relationships, where I'm sure a whole bunch of common factors were found with statistical significance, about bad marriages and therefore the inference was to have a good marriage, avoid these bad things. Such research found statistically important factors, but the inference the the opposite of these or avoiding these would lead to a good marriage was wrong. Same with kid drug use, same with depression.

At some point, researchers took a different approach - they studied happy people, kids that didn't use drugs and successful marriages. The results were somewhat different to the perceived opposite of the undesirable attributes society was seeking to avoid. i.e the opposite of depressed is "not depressed" rather than "happy". Socio-economic factors were not the leading cause of drug use in kids and communication was not the answer to successful marriages.

Back to truancy. MUSAC has coded, like all the other SMS vendors and as a requirement of special data sharing "approval" for SMS vendors, a whole bunch of statisical reports about truancy and attendance rates. None of it, I believe, actual helps a school determine what they need to do to get their kids more engaged in school so they are not truant. Helps them to measure truancy, but not tackle it.

Study the kids that turn up. That is the behaviour you want. That is the key. Encourage and strengthen that. What is it that gets a student engaged in what goes on in school?

1 comment:

  1. One of the most powerful tools schools have at their disposal to address issues such as truancy and other behavioural problems is restorative justice.