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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 29, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---The rate of absenteeism among teachers in Micronesia is higher than the national average in the United States, according to a study by Pacific Resources for Education and Learning or PREL.

The study, which covered all eight island states and entities, showed that teachers in Micronesia are "away from their classrooms" on an average of 11 days a year.

The number of absences range from five to 22 days, the study said.

"We're way above the (U.S.) national average, which is seven," said Denise Lea Uehara, PREL's program specialist.

The study, entitled Retention and Attrition of Pacific School Teachers and Administrators, examined the risk factors associated with teacher and school administrator absenteeism. The report was released late last year.

It was conducted among schools in the CNMI, American Samoa, Guam, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Palau, Yap, and Chuuk.

The study, according to Uehara, found that while stress and burnout problems do not exist among Micronesian teachers, absenteeism is the most common.

The issue of absenteeism, Uehara said, is related to cultural factors, such as the islanders' tradition of giving priority to funeral attendance over work.

In some islands, local teachers are entitled to five days of funeral leave.

Uehara said Micronesian states and islands have good leave policies, but they are not properly implemented.

She said PREL is in the process of developing a supplemental policy that would be incentive-based rather than punishment-oriented.

"We have suggested giving a reward to teachers with the least number of absences. The reward may come in the form of certificates or discounts at local stores," Uehara said.

Another incentive being proposed by PREL is to give teachers with good attendance record public recognition, Uehara said.

Uehara said PREL is also proposing the principals be made accountable for teachers' frequent absences, and be evaluated based on their teachers' attendance.

"This will inspire principals to enforce the existing attendance policy," Uehara said.

PREL is preparing a policy brief which will be presented to the board of directors who, incidentally, are heads of education agencies in the Pacific islands.

"The policy will trickle down to the principal level where enforcement takes place. With a new policy we hope to see [positive] changes [in teachers' attendance]," Uehara said.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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