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Should I do like the Romans do or should I make waves? How Migrant Teachers and Students face Issue of Attendance Today

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Cause and Effect:  Attendance as an Issue in Schools Globally

By Kevin Stoda, an American in the Middle East currently


In many countries of the world, attendance at university and college classes are not as serious a matter as it is in the United State.  Many foreign students come to the USA and learn this the hard way--having to retake courses that they should have passed the first time. I have experienced the effects that these educational-social-practice differences have had on me as both a lecturer and as a student.

For example, I was a student in Germany at university from 1986 through 1990 while at the same time I occasionally taught classes in English to some of my peers as paid employee at the same institution.  In Japan and Mexico, too, I was active at different times as both a student and as an instructor. Finally,  I should add, in my homeland, the USA at various times over the decades, I have also been active as a student and as a university instructor. In the next part of this essay, I will discuss some of  the causes and effects that the different attitudes about regular attendance can have on students and instructors. 

There are several major causes as to why, in general, Americans--including professors and most students--take university classroom attendance so seriously as compared to those in some other lands.  First of all, in most American universities and colleges enrollment in a semester course is already fairly fixed by the end of the first week of classes.  For this reason, students who enroll late or who  decide to abandon a course after the first week face very high fees or financial penalties. In contrast to the USA, in many countries in the world, such as in Mexico or Germany, most public universities are free or relatively free for the students entering them. 

A second reason why Americans take classroom attendance seriously is because it is often anticipated (or assumed) by students and many teaching staff that the coursework or projects are as important for success in the course as are any exams.  This is because in the typical American elementary and secondary school system students rarely have experienced more than a handful of high-stakes exams in their lives as compared to those in other lands who almost exclusively receive their semester marks based upon the marks that they get on one or two exams taken each year.

Third, American public schools receive both state and federal funding based upon student attendance.  This leads administrators to give great attention to attendance as part of the process that eventually brings students to college and universities in a daily interaction.

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The effect of this more hyper focus on attendance for American students at the university level include the fact that issues of time-on-task practicing and time-spent-wrestling with any course material in a classroom setting are often taken more seriously at tertiary institutes in the USA than in other corners of the world.  German students studying at American universities, in contrast, often feel that the American system treats them like they are still high school students--leaving them feeling demeaned.  At the same time, I--as an American student studying in Germany (following my having already received a B.A. in a U.S. college)--was equally frustrated by the lack of attendance by my peers at German universities.  This lack of attendance led me to demean attendance myself and I subsequently dropped out of several courses because attendance was obviously not taken as serious (by either my peers or by many instructors). 

Similarly, when I lived, worked, and studied in Japan, many Japanese students--who had worked hard in high schools across that county by taking many high stakes tests to gain entrance at some high quality institutions--were less than serious in attending class for much of their first two years they attended university or college. (NOTE: The Japanese, in contrast to the German students, would often, however, become fairly regular at attending classes once-again by their junior and senior years.  This had partially to do with the fact that the easier courses and exams had been put  behind them by then and once again high-stakes exams and high stakes-projects took place normally only in the second half of their studies.) 

In the Middle East, where I have taught most of the recent past decade and a half, I once again find that student attendance in courses at the remedial-, freshman-, and sophomore levels is not taken very seriously historically.  On the surface, it appears that here the idea is that if one is really concerned or really needs help, one should pay for a tutor.  This has led to very low standards of performance on exams and projects for far too many students.

In conclusion, increasingly as teachers and students migrate around the planet, attendance is an issue these days for many in various parts of the world.  This is often the case regardless as to whether attendance was-or-is important in someone's homeland. In other words, the issue of student attendance--and how lecturers and students see attendance's role in their education-- is an important issue because our world is one of global migrations.  Instructors are moving from one country to another to teach, and likewise some students go to other countries to learn while others back in their homelands experience instructors from many different countries by the time they graduate from college or university.[1] 

At times, migrants, academics, and students simply conform to one another's expectations, but more often than not either the instructor, the administrators, or students will have to be subservient to the historically dominant culture on campus. This is a relatively straightforward procedure in some ways, i.e. one often assumes that if one is in Rome, one should act as the Romans. As a migratory lecturer, one might simply need be prepared to go-with-the-flow and  observe how others behave.  This works fine if no-change in an educational system is expected nor desired.  However, in many cases around the globe, educational reforms are being sought, i.e. one should not always assume that doing-as-the-Romans-do will continue to get you and your educational institution from A to B.  In the case of attendance, my current institution has come to see that student attendance is more desirable for student achievement. 

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As a migrant instructor, I am ready to support this reform, especially as an American I am familiar with the benefits of high attendance and high participation in a lively and motivating course. On the other hand, many of my colleagues from neighboring Arab lands or certain parts of Europe, Africa or Australia may not appreciate nor full grasp the importance of attendance.[2]  Or, they may be more interested in going with the flow of local practices, i.e. rather than seeing themselves as a developmental worker involved in positive organizational change.


[1] Recently, I was in a college employee meeting room with 17 staffers teaching the exact same course curriculum.  The birth countries represented in that group of seventeen instructors included:  Oman, the USA, Canada, Iran, Sudan, Jordan, India, Bangladesh,  the Philippines, South Africa, Scotland and England.

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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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