Finnish survey reveals increase in school absenteeism

A survey has revealed an increase in school attendance problems among lower‑secondary school learners in Finland. The VIP special support networks survey was funded by the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI). It asked for school staff opinions on attendance in the 2019–2020 school year. 

Most respondents estimated that the number of learners regularly absent from school had increased. The number of learners whose absenteeism clearly affects their learning is estimated to be over 4,000 in lower-secondary schools in Finland. This represents approximately 2–3% of learners, who need special arrangements to be made in school to ensure their attendance and meet their learning needs.

According to Pirjo Koivula, Education Counsellor and the Agency’s National Co-ordinator for Finland, non-attendance has negative consequences for both the individual learner and for wider society. It has been linked to mental health problems and school drop-out, which can both lead to difficulties finding employment and other financial and health problems later in life.

The reasons for absenteeism are wide-ranging and include illness, problems at home and social problems at school, such as bullying. The COVID‑19 pandemic has also contributed to absenteeism in Finland: a study by the University of Helsinki and Tampere University in May 2020 found that 8% of teachers had been unable to make any contact with some of their learners during the school closures. 

Attendance problems appear to be equally common among both girls and boys. Learning difficulties, such as difficulties with reading and writing, are more common in learners with attendance problems. The EDUFI survey found that most learners with attendance problems received intensified or special support when in school. 

Teachers reported that the best ways to tackle absenteeism were individualised education, multi-disciplinary co-operation and support for learners’ families. EDUFI is currently working with the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare to draw up instructions on intervening in attendance problems. It has also published guidelines (in Finnish) for reducing bullying. 

A publication on the absenteeism survey is available (in Finnish) on the EDUFI website.

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