Lucy Sebli

It is already 8am, Monday and I was going to have a three-hour class on security and national defence — a rather boring and dry subject to have early in the morning, as far as my students are concerned.

Not all thought it was a dry subject, at least based on the student enrolment for the course. As I was rushing to my class, I met a few students in the hall and nearby cafe.

I stopped and asked them why weren’t they in class. Instead of responding to my question, they smiled sheepishly and continued on with what they were doing.

Unperturbed by their indifferent attitude, I continued rushing to my class. When I got there, I was both furious and frustrated! Only five out of 50 students who had registered for the course were there.

In all honesty, I should not be surprised with the low turn-up for the class in the first week of the semester.

It has become a common trend among students, especially the more senior ones, to be absent in the first, second or third week of the semester. These students know the rules and regulations of the university very well, thus know which rules to bend and which rules to uphold.

The freshmen usually attend the classes on the first week of the semester. They are new to the university system and therefore quite unfamiliar with the system compared to their seniors. However, they will learn and eventually follow in the footsteps of their seniors.

I have been teaching for almost 15 years come this October, and probably have had thousands of students coming in and out of my rather small, but not too shabby office since I started my career.

The fact that I have almost run out of space to place my files and students’ work is a testimony to how long I have been at the institution.

The quality of students in terms of attitude and behaviour towards university education has changed so much over the last decades or so.

The university is forced to diversify its assessment methods, teaching approaches, encouraged and ‘forced’ to adopt technology in classrooms and/or in teaching and many more so that we as teachers can help our students to be the best that they can be.

The university is pressured to conform to the latest approaches to teaching and has spent millions in upgrading its system.

However, student attitudes or behaviours are not in line with the development and changes that have taken place in universities. The Ministry of Higher Education has also pumped in a lot of money to enable universities to accommodate the new generation of students.

Teachers are sent for training and are encouraged to learn new teaching skills so that they can become better educators.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the majority of students who enter our university’s doors. In my earlier days as a teacher, I never came across the word truancy in university.

In my university days in the early 1990s, it was almost unheard of. No one dared to miss lectures. Rain or shine, we would be there.

Lecturers during our days did not have to distribute the attendance sheet. They trusted us so much that we would be responsible for our own learning and do our assignments diligently without being coerced.

Truancy is one of the challenges faced by education systems in many countries where schooling is made compulsory. 

As a result, student truancy remains an unresolved issue which has drawn the attention of educators, parents, society and the government.

When students commit truancy, it means they have lost their interest in school or study and decided to use their time for activities more meaningful to them, whatever that may be.

In Malaysia, truancy has been identified as the second top disciplinary problem among school students.

Truancy can be defined as the practice of staying away from school without permission (Oxford Dictionary, 2010). In 2010, out of 111,484 disciplinary problem cases, 19,545 cases involved truancy (Ministry of Education, 2010).

In 2011, out of the 108,650 disciplinary problem cases, 18,550 involved truancy. To prevent truancy, the Ministry of Education has implemented the warning letter system.

The school administration is given the authority to assign three types of warning letter to students who skip school for more than 10 days without reason.

Similarly, an attempt is also made to combat truancy among university students in which an 80 per cent attendance requirement is made mandatory for students if they intend to sit for the final examination.

It is still an ongoing battle, to say the least.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.