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 schooling benefits, 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 to measure student absenteeism, all used in at least one of 27 recently published studies in low- and middle-income countries. It also synthesizes evidence on the advantages and disadvantages of different methods, drawing on 17 studies that compare methods. We find that official school attendance records—a relatively cheap, nonintrusive method—often result in similar statistics as unannounced spot checks, but there are enough exceptions that policymakers and researchers may initially need to complement school records with spot checks. Student reports often understate absenteeism, and caregiver reports even more so. We discuss implications for researchers and for policymakers to improve measurement in education systems.

This article was published in Economics of Education Review in 2023 ( This is the final, published version. The working paper was originally published in December 2021. The original version can be viewed here.

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