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Gambia pupils face learning losses over teacher absenteeism

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Banjul, 24 January 2022 – Tens of thousands of primary school pupils in The Gambia lose significant learning time due to high teacher absenteeism that averages 14 percent of teacher absence at least once a week, a new UNICEF study has shown.

The report, Time to Teach: Teacher attendance and time on task in primary schools in The Gambia, released today in The Gambia on International Day of Education, provides insights into the main drivers of primary school teacher absenteeism, a major obstacle to addressing the learning crisis, as well as strategic recommendations to address the problem.

The study, which combined qualitative and quantitative methods, was conducted across The Gambia, involving 260 participants, including pupils, teachers, and headteachers in public, private, and grant-aided schools, national education leaders, regional education directors, cluster monitors, community representatives, and structured school observations. 

“Even before the pandemic, The Gambia, like most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, was already grappling with a learning crisis, compounded by limited teaching time of 734 hours annually, 146 hours short of the global standards,” said Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative. “Rapid expansions in primary school enrolment have put huge pressure on the country’s ability to train and retain teachers. These expansions represent important progress for the country, so we must respond by investing more in keeping teachers in school and on task.”

The study looks at four dimensions of teacher attendance: being in school; being punctual (not arriving late/leaving early); being in the classroom (while in school), and spending sufficient time on task (while in the classroom). It also identifies factors associated with teacher absenteeism at five different levels of the education system: national, regional, community, school, and teacher. The report provides recommendations that can strengthen the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education’s efforts to improve teachers’ time on task.

Among other things, the report found that:

14% of teachers report an absence from school at least once a week.

11% of teachers report arriving late/leaving early from school once a week– 12% in rural schools, 7% in urban schools. 

10% of teachers report weekly classroom absences while in school – 13% in rural schools, 8% in urban schools. 

10% of teachers report limited time on the task at least once a week – 14% in rural schools, 6% in urban schools.  

Findings of the study point to salary, teachers’ health and transportation, monitoring, and teacher engagement in non-teaching activities as key reasons affecting teachers’ time on task. To address these issues, the study makes the following key recommendations: strengthening mechanisms for paying teachers’ salaries and other benefits; improving teachers’ access to health facilities and transportation services; strengthening collaboration between headteachers and cluster monitors; and ensuring teachers are not engaged in or reduce the time spent on, non-teaching tasks during scheduled lessons.

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