School absenteeism increased by 28% in 2021

School absenteeism increased by 28% in 2021
Credit: Belga

During the 2021-2022 school year, the level of school absenteeism exploded, with some 63,939 pupils recording at least nine half-days of unjustified absence, the threshold above which schools must report the pupil’s absence to the Right to Education Service (SDI), according to statistics published by Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique on 10 August.

This represents an extremely strong increase, up 28% compared to 2020, when 49,993 pupils went past this threshold. In 2021, the vast majority of absentees (34,856) were students enrolled in ordinary secondary education, up 56% from 2020.

In 2020-2021, absenteeism had already almost doubled when compared to the pre-pandemic 2019-2020 school year, with 45% in Wallonia and 36% in Brussels.

Absenteeism strongest in secondary school

Of the nearly 64,000 students reported to the SDI, “41.551 were the subject of just a single report,” said Minister of Education, Caroline Désir, who commented on this statistic at the end of July in the Belgian parliament. “It is clear that there is a marked increase in absenteeism, especially in secondary education.”

The Minister believes that this increase in students missing school can be explained by the Covid-19 pandemic, which severely impacted the education of many secondary school students.

“This can only alert us to the current state of young people who have been strongly touched by the health crisis,” the minister said. Indeed, many of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent anti-epidemic measures, are only being felt now.

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The Federal Planning Bureau believes that Belgian secondary students are now “six months behind schedule” in their studies as a result of the pandemic.

This is also manifested in test results for students taking their Basic Education Certificate in the Brussels-Wallonia Federation. The average pass rate for sixth-grade students slumped by 2.9% compared to the year, with teachers blaming the pandemic.

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