What about measuring learning found through cultural travel experiences to counterbalance missed schooling and lower national test scores?

At the recent ACER conference in Adelaide Stephen Zubrick presented a paper on school attendance and the effects on academic performance. The Sunday Age in Melbourne picked up the story with a headline “No safe level of missing school, study finds”.

The authors methodology appears robust with over 415,000 students, 2.5 million absence records over a 5 year period and NAPL:AN test results in years 3,5,7,and 9 used to answer the question how does patterns of attendance and absence contribute to school and students outcomes over time?

So what did it find:

  • 92% attendance rates in primary school (compared to 99% in China) which means about 16 days absent. This increases in secondary to school to 24 days absence.
  • NAPLAN (our national literacy and numeracy test) scores decline with any absence from school (there is no ‘safe threshold’)
  • The effects of absence particularly unauthorised absence is greater in any disadvantaged group on NAPLAN results. A drop in unexplained absences may signal better students engagement with school and in the end may be more important than an overall drop in absences.
  • Absence patterns are set early in a young persons school life (Year 1) and are rarely altered until secondary school where they increase.
  • The effects of non-attendance accumulate over time – so days missed in years 3 are detectable in the years ahead

While none of this was earth shattering it was good to get some evidence that any absence has an effect and an accumulative effect of lowering academic performance as measured by NAPLAN scores. If you were to target any sort of absence unexplained or unauthorised absences are the first to tackle.

I have previously written on this topic about family travel during the school term and the need to seek approval or authorisation Our “living museum” is set to open soon where we will plot student travel on large wall sized maps and share stories around unique artefacts students bring back from their travel.

I have a wondering if we were to measure family connectedness (not necessarily linked to socio economic groupings) to academic achievement (I believe research has made a connect to advantage and academic achievement) would we see support for special sorts of student/family travel away from school.

It’s this special sorts of travel that I’m wanting to explore a lot more.

I’m making a distinction here between family holidays primarily lying on a Bali beach as opposed to touring through temples to learn more about Hindu religions, taking cooking classes learning the cultural stories behind why they use spices or certain food groups in India, looking at historical forts where moguls or certain dynasties presided for 100’s of years. It’s this second type of cultural experience where young ones get to learn about and share the stories of the places and people’s that I think starts to balance the learning missed through the schooling experience with life long cultural experiences. These cultural experiences once captured, reflected upon and shared have the potential to enrich the learning for many years to come. If we are going to drop a few scores on a national test through this absence then lets at least maximise the potential gains in years to come.

That’s the premise of my construction of a school “living museum” a place to share, reflect upon and learn about the cultural experiences of others – to hear the stories. We may then in time be able to support families as they plot cultural experiences on what makes a difference (not that I mind lying on a beach to rest). In this way we can support family connectedness, balance time away for schooling with other learning and hopefully enrich our communities lives through shared stories.