September 2016

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Secondary school teacher absenteeism has become increasingly problematic in Trinidad and Tobago over the past decade. Excessive absenteeism in a labour intensive field such as education is particularly problematic for numerous reasons. Some of the major reasons are:

(1) hiring substitute teachers is difficult, costly, and can be ineffective,
(2) unanticipated absences can adversely affect students’ academic performance, and
(3) students tend to regard their teachers as role models, and thus imitate their teachers’ absence behaviour.

Trinidad and Tobago’s government has been seeking ways to address teacher absenteeism. To do so, our government must first identify the antecedents of teacher absenteeism so that policies can be designed based on these factors. Iidentify a few of these antecedents in a recent study titled, Socio-Demographic Predictors of Secondary School Teacher Absenteeism in Trinidad that was published in the International Journal of Employment Studies. For the study, I used a sample of 146 secondary school teachers from eight schools in Trinidad. The findings show that age and form teacher position are predictors of teacher absenteeism, even when controlling for prior absenteeism – the strongest predictor of absenteeism, job scope, and teaching load.

Younger teachers are more frequently absent than their elder counterparts. Younger individuals tend to seek a ‘boundaryless’ career – one in which they can continuously explore job opportunities by moving in and out of various organisations. Therefore, policies may need to be directed towards making the teaching profession more attractive towards younger teachers, for example, more opportunities for promotion. In addition, recruiters should use realistic job previews (RJPs) in order to paint an accurate picture of what a teaching job entails. A RJP describes both the positive and negative attributes of a job. RJPs can shape young teachers’ expectations of what the teaching job gives them in return for what they give to the job. The intention here is to set realistic job expectations, which may then reduce absenteeism.

Teachers who hold form teacher positions are less absent than those who do not hold this position. The form teacher position should provide higher skill variety, task identity, task significance, and autonomy than regular teacher positions. Based on this finding, secondary schools should enrich regular teachers’ jobs in a similar fashion to form teachers because doing so may motivate teachers to come to work. At the same time, teachers’ growth need strength may influence the degree to which the use of job enrichment strategies reduce absenteeism, and hence further research is needed here.

In addition to age and form teacher position, the study shows that gender and number of young children are marginal predictors of teacher absenteeism. With respect to gender, women teachers are more absent than men teachers. This finding may be because women teachers may have a lower status in comparison to men teachers, which may lead to women teachers becoming withdrawn from their school. If further research confirms that women teachers are more absent than men teachers, then potential causes of this difference need to be investigated further, for example, women’s participation and leadership in decision making in secondary schools. Teachers with young children are more absent than those without young children. Teachers with young children have extra childcare commitments that may lead to increased absenteeism. Schools may need to implement daycare centers or childcare programmes, both of which have been successful in reducing absenteeism in other countries. Another strategy may be to temporarily give teachers with young children more flexible teaching schedules that can minimise unanticipated absences.

Overall, the study’s findings are meant to assist local governing bodies and school authorities with the development of policies geared towards reducing teacher absenteeism. The above mentioned prevention techniques can be targeted towards those sub-groups of teachers that are most prone to absenteeism. These sub-groups are young teachers and those who are not form teachers. In addition, women teachers and those with young children may also be more vulnerable to absence behaviour, but further research is needed here. Finally, marital status, education, and position of dean are all unrelated to teacher absenteeism. These findings on secondary school teacher absenteeism should be used as a platform for investigations into the psychological and social processes that underlie the ‘hard’ socio-demographic predictors.

Dr Paul Balwant is a lecturer in Human Resource Management at the Department of Management Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences. This article is based on his publication in the International Journal of Employment Studies, which can be read at the journal’s website ( or at Dr Balwant’s personal webpage (