THE revelation that about 10,000 of the 200,000 students from 400 primary and secondary schools around the country are absent from schools on a daily basis is worrying.
Understandably students will sometimes be absent for various reasons, including being sick.
But as our report on Page 3 today reveals, absenteeism has become a major issue for schools in the country. Education Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy said this in his ministerial statement yesterday in Parliament.
Last year's statistics, he said, highlighted "an alarming rate of absenteeism in our schools on a daily basis".
Dr Reddy said a recent survey found out that children were establishing patterns of behaviour that were affecting their overall performance in schools.
Some children, he said, were "engaging in risky behaviour".
They were failing to attend school regularly, arriving late to school, there was a certain level of truancy and destructive behaviour in class, "bullying, consumption of alcohol, kava, and tobacco, drugs, engaging in sexual activities, teenage pregnancies, and showing disrespect".
It is worrying that a 2015 National Substance Abuse Advisory report which studied 400 primary and secondary schools in Fiji found that 1796 offences were committed by secondary and primary school students.
However, in the face of this negative picture, we have a scenario that should ensure parents have no excuses to not send their children to school.
It is getting difficult to justify keeping them away from school.
Parents now do not have to pay school fees for starters. There are concessions in place for bus fares.
Incentives are in place to actually encourage parents to make sure children are in school.
The onus now shifts firmly to parents and guardians then to acknowledge and reciprocate the many initiatives in place. We surely all want a nation that places education on a high plane.
The question is how much do we value education?
Do we send our children to school because it is "free"?
Or do we prioritise it and put in place measures to nurture an appreciation of education among our children.
When we value education, we emphasise the need for it to be a key part of our lives.
Do we then divert extra funds made available by this process to strengthen the base for our children's learning at home?
The State has done its part. It is now about taking advantage of the system.
There will be a lot of parents who will be quite happy about this.
The key though is for us to embrace education as a means to improve our lives.
When we do that, we will place education on a very high pedestal, where it really should be. That could be the first step to reducing absenteeism.