School ‘Attendance’ Higher With Online Learning

Educators say COVID-19 may be improving the “attendance” of schoolchildren, with record low levels of absenteeism in Victoria and Queensland on Monday. Queensland opened for term two with online teaching only on Monday, while Victoria started its second term last week.

Data management company Compass Education, which handles online processing for 1800 government, independent and Catholic schools and has more than 2 million users, says the online absentee rate was 4.8 per cent – less than half the normal national absentee rate of 10 per cent.

Chief executive John de la Motte said it was only early days but students were logging on and learning in higher volumes, and even adjusting for the very different circumstances.

In both states the peak time for log-ons was 8.52am, which is earlier than last week and ahead of the usual peak time of 9.07am.

“The record-low school absentee rate suggests more students are logging on when they may have otherwise missed an entire day of school,” Mr de la Motte said.

“While we don’t know the exact reasons for absentees, anecdotally there’s something about being at home when you feel unwell – you can work for a little bit, rest, not have to put your uniform on and contend with a commute to school.

“The earlier log on could be for a whole host of reasons – not having to deal with peak-hour commutes, school drop-off lines, having to find their school shoes, pack a lunch. Transport and travel can so often present challenges to families,” Mr de la Motte said.

The company is the biggest school data management business in the country and normally handles 1 gigabit a second (Gbps) of assignments, class work and record keeping during peak load. During COVID-19 usage is peaking at about 6 Gbps.

Meanwhile in the Northern Territory, where term two started on Monday with parents required to send children to physical classes, attendance rates were 17 per cent lower than on the same day last year.

So far there have been no deaths from the coronavirus in the NT and no new cases of infection in two weeks.

Territory Education Minister Selena Uibo said the attendance result was “tremendous” considering the circumstances.

“Pleasingly, 90 per cent of school staff attended work today, which is consistent with normal school operational periods and highlights their ongoing dedication,” she said.

“The Territory government has implemented tough measures, including strict border control and enforced quarantine of interstate and overseas arrivals, to stop the spread of coronavirus.”

She said unlike other states and territories, parents were expected to send children to school – but they could keep their child at home if they wanted to, as long as the school was informed, and the child was learning.

Queensland independent schools reported a 22 per cent attendance rate, which was higher than expected, and higher than in Victoria last week.

Before Easter, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan warned independent schools they risked losing their government revenue if they didn’t offer physical classes. At the time some private schools in Victoria said teaching in term two would be online only.

Independent schools get 80 per cent of government funding from the federal Education Department.

The executive director of the Independent Schools of Queensland, David Robertson, said at no stage had private schools in the state threatened to withdraw all physical classes.

Source: Australian Financial Review, 20 April 2020 (https://www.afr.com/work-and-careers/education/school-attendance-higher-with-online-learning-20200420-p54laq), Editor: Robert Bolton.

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