Prolonged pandemic impact: School absenteeism at record levels

Prolonged pandemic impact: School absenteeism at record levels
Credit: Virginie Lefour/Belga.

Over 23,000 French-speaking pupils have been frequently absent from school without reason in the first half of the 2022-2023 academic year. Many cite the after-effects of the pandemic as root cause for the huge rise in absenteeism.

Le Soir reported on Thursday that 2.9% of all students registered in French-speaking schools had been absent without justification for over nine half-days between September and December of last year. In comparison to the same time period in 2021, the number of absentees has risen by 35%.

The figure represented an unprecedented 90.5% increase in absenteeism compared to pre-pandemic statistics in 2019. Caroline Desir, Education Minister for the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, argues that the pandemic has made the relationship between schools, parents and students, more difficult than ever before.

Her view has echied by primary and secondary school heads, with one telling Le Soir that "at the drop of a hat" parents are choosing to keep their child at home.

Moreover, a secondary school student spoke of social anxiety created by the pandemic had left him socially anxious, leading to isolation at school. He added: "I had to leave class because of pain, (ranging from back pain to vomiting)" due to the stress of being in class.

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Though few solutions have been put forward to deal with the hangover of the pandemic in French-speaking schools, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation hopes that planned school reform will reduce absenteeism by over 50%.

Approved in 2017, the reform sets out a new three-point mechanism for reporting those absent from school. Firstly, a new app will detect unjustified absences from the first half-day onwards. Secondly, parents will be automatically sent a reminder of the law once their child exceeds nine half-days of unjustified absences. Finally, parents will be called by the school's authorities once their child is absent for more than five school days.

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