There’s no shortage of stories about how the pandemic affected students in school. Absenteeism, or students frequently missing class, was one of the many topics that were top of mind for many Canadians during this time. That’s why Pathways’ Research and Evaluation team decided to focus on this important topic.  

Their research found that absenteeism was rising—but that it wasn’t all due to the pandemic. The gap, or the additional barriers that students living in low-income communities face, was also a major factor in why students miss class. Here are some highlights from this research: 


1. Absenteeism is on the rise—and it’s not good news. 

 The data is clear: absenteeism has increased since the pandemic. One school board in Ontario reported that its absenteeism rate grew from three to four percent in 2020 to somewhere between eight and 14 percent in November 2022. That same month, a school division in Saskatchewan reported that on average, 20 percent (1 in 5) of students were absent compared to the typical rate of 12 – 14 percent. And across the country, in Nova Scotia, teachers reported record student absenteeism between 30 to 50 percent in some schools for two weeks or more. 

 That’s bad news. Studies have shown that students with high rates of absenteeism have a negative view about their academic ability. Absenteeism has also been shown to have direct negative impacts on individual outcomes outside of school, particularly employment and health. It affects social outcomes, such as the likelihood of participation in criminal justice and social service systems. These consequences are costly socially, financially, and politically. 

2. It’s not all about the pandemic. Community income has a lot to do with it. 

Research shows that the rise in absenteeism isn’t all about the pandemic. Barriers like low income, transportation problems, lack of expectations about education, and low motivation with school all play a part in absenteeism. That’s why even before the pandemic, students in low-income communities were more likely to have more absences and be chronically absent compared to their more affluent peers. And during the pandemic, a quarter of low-income schools (24%) reported having challenges with student enrollment in light of COVID-19 compared to 13% of high-income schools. These kind of barriers and stacked odds are what we talk about when we speak of the gap. 

3. To tackle absenteeism, programs like Pathways can make a difference. 

The good news is that helping students develop a sense of belonging like the one fostered in the Pathways Program can make a big difference. Pathways provides students with a safe, inclusive space and access to trusted adults; all important aspects in helping students develop a sense of belonging. Not only is this sense of belonging negatively associated with absenteeism, but it’s positively associated with academic motivation and achievement and can act as a protective factor for students’ well-being by increasing self-esteem, reducing feelings of isolation, and reducing risk-taking behaviours. That, in turn, may prevent them from leaving school before they graduate. 


The Pathways Program’s holistic combination of academic, financial, social, and one on one supports can make a difference for students living in low-income communities. That’s how we can close the gap, and it’s where your support comes in. Will you step up to help students? 


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