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MISSING CLASSES--What to do when Motivating Lessons are not Enough: Notes from Developing Lands

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MISSING CLASSES and the MIDDLE EAST

by Kevin Stoda, Salalah, Oman

According to Alexander Astin's work on improving student involvement and his work towards a better theory of  tertiary developmental education, "If an institution commits itself to achieving maximum student involvement, counselors and other student personnel workers will probably occupy a more important role in institutional operations. Because student personnel workers frequently operate on a one-to-one basis with students, they are in a unique position to monitor the involvement of their clients in the academic process and to work with individual clients in an attempt to increase that involvement. One of the challenges confronting student personnel workers these days is to find a "hook' that will stimulate students to get more involved in the college experience: taking a different array of courses, changing residential situations, joining student organizations, participating in various kinds of extracurricular activities, or finding new peer groups."

Alas, in both paternalistic and traditional tribal societies of all kinds, the university and schools are not emphasized as places where students belong so much as a place where they simple must go to in order to obtain a diploma, which will buy them a rung in their next position in life.

TEACHING IN SUCH SOCIETIES

Since 1999, I have taught in 3 Middle Eastern countries.  I have taught primarily at the tertiary level but have also taught at the primary and secondary levels.  In every one of these locations--i.e., in Oman, in the UAE, and in Kuwait--one singular phenomenon has been the almost universal:  This phenomenon involves problems of truancy from classes. 

As a professional in the field of international development in education, I have been concerned with this matter for several reasons. On the one hand, the problem of absenteeism limits the students' foreign language acquisition.  The one main reason for this deficit is that time-on-task undertaking ever-more-difficult exercises (or activities) is considered the number one variable in second language acquisition world-wide. (Krashen, 2003)

On the other hand, the habits which one enquires in one's youth often continue to dominate later in life.  So, if I am not concerned with the short-term problems of absenteeism, the long-term results of absenteeism should be of my greatest concern. For example, absenteeism amongst Gulf nationals in Oman, Kuwait, and UAE  personnel has been so high historically that foreign and national firms do not often like to hire them--and often give them jobs of few consequence because of the fear of high absenteeism and lack of commitment to being on the job when needed.

Here is a headline story from Kuwait this past winter: "Kuwait's public sector operated with half of its staff after around 160,000 employees failed to show up for work on Tuesday following a four-day holiday. Excuses for the high-level absenteeism included trips abroad and sick leaves, local Arabic daily Al Jarida reported."

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/kuwait/kuwait-pledges-administrative-action-against-absenteeism-1.988046

By the way, " The highest levels of absenteeism were recorded at the ministries of education and information, followed by higher education and health."

Interestingly, not all educational faculty, professors and administrators are equally concerned with the issues of either tardy-ism or absenteeism.  Typical of these instructors is Dr. Ibrahim Inwa, head of the anatomy department at the Sultan Qaboos College of Medicine.  In one recent newspaper interview, Dr. Inwa stated, "The causes of absenteeism that I usually hear included:  I have overslept because I spent the whole night studying.[or ] I think I am not benefiting from the classes, or I have a problem with transportation.  The most common cause I commonly hear from the student is we have an exam after the lecture and we are preparing for it.'"

Dr. Inwa continues, "Inactive classes are really a serious problem for the instructor themselves.  However, students shouldn't be forced to attend the lecture.  I believe attending the lecture shouldn't even be compulsory and attending classes is directed by the way the student likes to learn in.  There are so many different ways of learning and lectures are just one.  The only solution is to make the classes more interactive and enjoyable. "Team based learning' makes students attend classes and this was applied for the last two semesters in the course of "introduction to anatomy' where the attendance was almost full.'"

INSUFFICIENCY OF TEAMS WITHOUT ATTENDANCE

While I agree that  team-based learning which is combined with team-work (individual and group-work)  evaluations can motivate students to attend classes, and through teamwork, they can become involved more in improving their own life-long learning habits. Nonetheless, short-term absentee issues can lead to long-term absenteeism in most any setting where students do not actually learn to study better or are not motivated to take charge of their own study habits or lives in any serious manner.

I find it more than a bit cavalier in a developing land (or even in any so-called developed country) to assume that good study habits come by a sort of osmosis. It might be acceptable at the most elite colleges or school to assume that most every student comes into the classroom as sort of wind-up-machine which simply needs to be wound-up to operate properly.  However, such an assumption is dangerously naïve concerning almost any other educational or developmental setting. Nonetheless, too many teachers, professors, and Middle Eastern students state through both voice-and-action that they, too, see no link between attendance and success in education.

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http://eslkevin.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/3-big-paradigms-hol

KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)
 

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