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Future of Education Technology Q1 2023

Persistent school absences in children and what we can do to help them

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Sarah Horrocks

Freelance Digital Learning Consultant and Former Director of the Connected Learning Centre

With the estimated school absence rate for the 2022–23 academic year hitting 7.8% in the UK, concerns about children’s severe and persistent school absences since the pandemic have been growing. 


Absence is an issue for education systems across the world — but could some of the digital tools put in place during lockdown help tackle this problem post-pandemic? 

Challenges lead to school absences 

Åsa Lindgren teaches in a Stockholm secondary school supporting young people who experience challenges attending classes regularly. She describes examples of teenagers whose attendance has increased through access to digital learning activities from home, together with personalised support.  

One girl who’d stopped coming to school began to re-engage with activities in the digital classroom. By talking through her learning in twice-weekly calls with Lindgren and reading the tasks on the learning platform together to check her understanding, she ultimately felt confident enough to return to school to complete her national exams. 

For children in Jordan, digital access to learning means they can learn for longer each day.

How to avoid increasing absence rates 

“Instead of struggling to look for clues when they’ve zoned out, they can go back and review the digital classroom. It’s helpful if they have constant visibility of learning — including links to video clips and references so they can check if they’ve missed anything,” explains Lindgren. 

“It’s important for all students — whether with good or poor attendance — that teachers share their plans and future work to be covered clearly in the digital classroom. It’s not just for setting tasks and homework. Children need to feel in control of their own learning and be involved in a democratic partnership with their teachers,” she warns. 

Adapting to student circumstances 

School absence can also be due to circumstance rather than confidence. In Jordan, the number of refugee students from Syria means that school takes place in two shifts: one set of pupils and teachers use a school building in the morning, then a different set in the afternoon.  

The Connected Learning Centre in London worked with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education in Jordan on ‘Learning Bridges,’ a blended learning approach developed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, Learning Bridges reached 600,000 students in over 70% of schools, including refugee camps.  

For children in Jordan, digital access to learning means they can learn for longer each day. What started as an emergency intervention responding to the needs of children learning from home continues to enrich students’ learning and improve the quality of education in Jordan’s public schools. 

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