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Student non-attendance in higher education
A phenomenon of student apathy or poor pedagogy?

Author - Joanne Cleary-Holdforth

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It is evident from the professional literature that student non-attendance is a reasonably universal problem, one that transcends country, university and discipline. ‘It is little short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not already completely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry’ (Albert Einstein 1879–1955). Perhaps this is what university students have in mind when they choose to absent themselves from their classes. There are mixed findings in relation to the relationship between attendance and academic performance. Nonetheless there are valuable lessons to be learned from both sides of that particular debate in providing a way forward that facilitates and encourages student attendance and indeed performance. While there may be the perception that attendance is largely a student issue and responsibility, and that there is little that educators can do about students’ non-attendance, the time has come for educators to step out from behind this parapet, albeit reflectively and to expose themselves to self-scrutiny about their respective roles in improving student attendance.

The literature suggests why students do not attend class, and also why they do. This information provides educators with an insight into what motivates students to attend and what puts them off attending. There are many reasons that are solely student-centred that educators have little or no control over. Equally there are numerous reasons that educators do have control over and can do something about. It is essential that educators utilise this evidence and translate it into improved practice and positive outcomes for both their students and themselves. After all, as William Butler Yeats is reputed to have said, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire’.

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