How to Measure Student Absenteeism in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

December 15, 2021

Student attendance at school is a necessary condition for learning and for other benefits derived from schooling, yet absenteeism is a significant issue for students in many countries. Policies, programs, and research seeking to reduce absenteeism need to measure it accurately. This article describes seven different methods used to measure student absenteeism, all employed in recently published studies in low- and middle-income countries. It also synthesizes evidence on the advantages and disadvantages of each method, drawing on 15 studies that compare methods. We find that in many cases, official school attendance records—a relatively cheap, unintrusive method—result in similar statistics as unannounced spot checks (in which an enumerator arrives at the school and takes attendance without pre-arranging the visit), but there are enough exceptions that researchers may initially need to complement school records with spot checks to decide. Student and caregiver reports often understate absenteeism.

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