Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Are children really disadvantaged by missing school days?

First of all, let me say, hello again. I’ve been on maternity leave and haven’t really had a chance to blog.

I was having a lovely time, playing with my new son, playing with my daughter, we went to Japan, had a bathroom reno and I was reading the news.

Until this.

This trollop really gets my goat up. I mean, come on?? You really think that Children who miss school days are hugely disadvantaged Angela Mollard? Because, you know, that’s what you argue.

Unbelievably to me, you even use a really silly anecdote, the plural of which is not, BTW, data, to demonstrate your cause. You state:

IT TOOK me until I was 24 to correctly pronounce the word “chutzpah”.

Even now I have to think about it. Indeed, one Sunday last year I was chatting with the TV host Sarah Harris and came out with the “ch”. As in cheese. Or chump. Fortunately we were off air. But still.

As all you smart readers would know, chutzpah has a silent “c” and is pronounced “huuts pah”. I’d know it too if I hadn’t pulled a convincing sickie on that day in fifth form when Miss Hamilton was teaching silent letters.

I agree, silent letters are important, but are you actually for real? Like for reals for real? Oh man…

Then, you go on to quote a report using NAPLAN (which I’ve written about previously here, here, here and here) as evidence that kids are disadvantaged if they miss school.

Absenteeism is no longer a socio-economic issue, but a cultural one, and it’s poised to make dummies out of all of us. This week, the first major study linking poor attendance to lower NAPLAN results found that even a single absence can lead to a decline in academic performance.

“A 10-day period of unauthorised absence in a year is sufficient to drop a child about a band in the NAPLAN testing,” says the report’s co-author, Stephen Zubrick, from the University of Western Australia.

Yes, NAPLAN, the great capturer of all the knowledge stored in the heads of Australian kidlets everywhere. #sarcasm.

You don’t think that children are learning more from being outside the classroom, engaged in real life, than they are in the classroom? What about the kinds of experiences they have, in the real world, you think that, even if their parents are indeed taking them to the tapas bars of Barcelona, because it’s convenient to tag a month in Europe onto Dad’s business trip to Spain. Aren’t they learning about food? about the different ambience of the foreign country? About the way that food is consumed and the different relationship different cultures have with food? About ordering in Spanish? Listening to conversations held in other languages? What about all the other learning that goes on when travelling abroad?

Now, please allow me two anecdotes. First from my own schooling. I am able to rattle off the first ten elements on the periodic table, and can also list off the seven taxonomic ranks on the international nomenclature. But, why? I hold a PhD and, apart from the two exams when I had to repeat this information, I’ve never had to use it again.

So, if I’d skipped school on the days when I had to learn hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon, so what?

And, so who cares that I know it’s kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genius, species?

Wouldn’t I have been better actually experiencing butterflies in the garden? Or, you know, going and learning about the elements by looking at helium or lithium?

Second anecdote. My children went on a trip to Japan (see above). My 3yo was talking answering questions asked of her in Japanese and saying the odd Japanese word by spending a week with friends. Doesn’t she learn a lot more from that than if she was simply doing flashcards?

I’m sorry Angela, research says, you’re wrong.


7 Responses to “Are children really disadvantaged by missing school days?”

  1. Helen

    Great column, I completely agree that a child would be learning 100 fold traveling abroad with parents, compared to trudging through another mediocre day in the classroom. I thought it was a bit harsh to describe the journalist in question as a “trollop”, probably doesn’t add to your argument…but her obsession with education for productivity & international competitiveness show she is all about kids conforming to future business models rather than living joyful inspired lives where learning is for human welfare not corporate interests.

    • Rebecca English

      Oh my! I wasn’t referring to the journalist as trollop, but the premise of the article was, IMHO, pretty silly. I think it’s sad that the corporate interest agenda trumps children’s interest and learning about a whole world.

      • Helen

        Lol…sorry Rebecca, I missed completely yr meaning there then!! You meant that in reference to the article as a whole? Whole-heartledly agree if so! The quasi-corporate speak in relation to children’s education is so uninspiring. There’s no vision or cherishing of the wonder of learning, just all about competition & bottom-line agendas. Both sides of politics fall into this kind of language so easily when discussing schools.

  2. Michael Barry

    I laughed aloud when I read this post. Even my father, a very old-fashioned teacher trained in 1951, said that a child could miss a year of Primary school without any real harm, so long as their parents supported the child’s education.

    Thanks, Rebecca, for tolerating my (previous) email exchange with intelligence and good humour. I no doubt benefited the most from our exchange, and I appreciate you taking the time and effort to respond so thoughtfully. All the best with your research!


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