All attendance systems are flawed.

Calm down. Breathe. This is not an attack on an institution in specific, but a sharp critique of what attendance systems really are.

If you’re in the foreign and you are reading this blog (which is highly unlikely), you might ask: but what is this system of attendance you speak of?

I’ll explain.

An attendance system, for the purposes of this post, is any educational setup that penalizes students for not attending class. These penalties could be in the form of a prohibition on writing exams, a deduction in marks, or a fine. Conversely, an attendance system could potentially be any system that rewards students for making it to the classroom: whether by way of marks, or awards, or anything else.

The purpose of educational setups is pretty straightforward: impart education, assess, and award people with degrees or diplomas. Bright-eyed, starry students come to Universities expecting an education – the quality of which they assess/expect based on which  University they’re attending.

The fallacy of an attendance system, is that from day 1, it creates additional pressure to attend classes, versus incentivizing students to internalize that attending class for the pure pleasure of attending class and learning something new and of their interest is sufficient. The harm that creates is measured best by the number of students to drag themselves to class when they’ve pulled all-nighters (irrespective of the reason why they’ve pulled an all-nighter). Sitting in class for how many ever hours, and being forced to pay attention after a night of no sleep can create long-lasting impacts on student development.

And there’s an easy rebuttal here: ask students to manage time better and to sleep more.

But that’s not the point of an educational setup, is it? University is where several students “discover” themselves, or whatever that is. It’s where they use the freedom of being away from home to participate in activities they have been curious about, or to spend time how they desire to spend time. Impinging upon that would be restricting freedoms.

Additionally, another harm created by incentivizing students to come to class is that they will always associate the educational experience with a reward or a punishment, and therefore, be unable to qualitatively assess the education they are receiving. For example, a kid will be satisfied he made it through 5 hours of classes, irrespective of the fact that he learnt absolutely nothing interesting.

That is mildly problematic because it marginally diminishes the value of education in the eyes of the student. It does this by creating rewards outside of “knowledge” in the mind of the kid.

But that’s just students.

For faculty, they’ll never actually be able to assess how good their course is. Considering classes are compulsory, a large portion of kids will be attending to ensure they do not get penalized. That diminishes the faculty’s interest in ensuring that everyone enjoys the class – because they realize that some students are here only for “attendance”.

This is dangerous on two levels.

One, faculty are no longer incentivized by the system to innovate. What I mean by this is that it will take extremely motivated faculty to come up with a new course plan or a new method of teaching to keep kids engaged in the classroom.

Is it a role of faculty to keep students engaged in the classroom?

Yes, because engaging classes can lead to more interest and greater imparting of knowledge.

Two, faculty will no longer interact with the class on the same plane as they would without the attendance system. Considering that some students are attending class not for course content, faculty are less likely to be teaching at the same level as they would with a class that was 100% interested.

It’s why mandatory courses also ought to be restricted. The same argument runs there as well.

This problem largely exists at University. By senior classes in school, students begin to recognize they can actually enjoy classes (because you’re around your friends and you’re learning fun things). Considering University courses are often specialized and chosen out of interest, it’s quite terrible that the same idea can’t be carried forward.

Attendance is just one culprit of this.

I haven’t thought this out entirely and I’m sure there’s more to add, but all of these thoughts hit me in the washroom this morning, so you’ll have to excuse any logical leaps I’m making.



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