Representative Advisory Councils

Opinion: Good education requires compulsory attendance

1 Oct 2020 13:55 | Representative Advisory Councils

I think students should attend as many lectures as possible. However, a recent newsletter of the representative advisory council FBE (8 July 2020) reported on an investigation into attendance requirements for lectures. The council points out that lecturers often make attendance compulsory, but that there is often insufficient (legal) basis or motivation for this.

That observation does challenge me to make another plea: for as much attendance as possible. I do this on the basis of the following arguments. The first two are about the logic of obligatory attendance. My third argument has to do with a vision of education.

Many of our students come from the HAVO (senior general secondary education); they receive thorough training from us at the AUAS and then they enter the labour market. Pupils must be present at the HAVO, and they will often also have to be present at work. How logical is it then that they would not have that obligation in their short intervening period in higher education?

A second argument why I think it is illogical to not require attendance concerns the importance of the subject matter. Personally, I believe in my profession: I think I have something interesting and relevant to tell the students. That implies that I think that students will miss something when they are not at my lectures. So if they don't come, they are missing something. Not only what I have to say, but also what we can share with each other in mutual exchange or group assignments

My third argument has to do with a vision of education. According to pedagogue Gert Biesta, education is about three things: qualification, socialisation and subjectification (meaning personal development).

Qualification means that students are ultimately sufficiently qualified to enter the labour market. In principle, what they need in terms of knowledge and skills for that, can be largely acquired from books. You do not necessarily have to be present in lectures for this. But you do have to be for the other two.

Socialisation means that we become part of a group that does things in a certain way: you have to grow into a learning community or a professional practice. For that you must of course participate in that learning community that prepares you for professional practice. Studying alone at home can provide you with a lot of knowledge (if you can work in a disciplined way) but you cannot "socialise". You really have to participate in the classroom. And not only that: you have to want to be part of the student community. By reflecting on practical examples during the lectures, you will learn to grow into the professional practice.

Personal development (subjectification), according to Biesta, mainly requires interest in the other. You develop your individuality (your "subject-being"; hence subjectification) in relation to others: people to whom you mirror yourself, those you take as an example and those you reject. It requires interaction with others. These are your fellow students who you see behaving in a certain way in the lecture halls. The way they study, respond to fellow students, participate in discussions and the opinions they express. Each time this raises questions such as: what is my position here? How would I do that? Likewise, the interaction with teachers: in what way are they role models for me and in what areas do I absolutely not want to become like them? In other words: how do I want to act?

The representative advisory council has therefore made an inventory of where attendance is required and whether this is permitted by law. This is really only possible if three questions can be answered in the affirmative. If that is not possible, then you cannot demand attendance. In view of this, I must say: let's rephrase those requirements.

• Do not ask “whether the exercises can only take place under supervision during the scheduled meetings”, but: organise your teaching in such a way that there are many exercises in which students increase their skills.

• Do not ask “whether the exercises are aimed at acquiring practical professional skills”, but: make sure that the exercises are aimed at acquiring practical professional skills.

• Do not ask “whether the exercises within the relevant unit of study will be tested”, but make tests in such a way that the acquired skills can also be demonstrated.

By the way, it seems that these three points mainly concern qualification. That is why I would like to add: organise your lectures in such a way that they also contribute to socialisation and subjectification.

Gert de Jong
senior lecturer-researcher cluster Finance & Accounting (FBE)

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This is a response to a previously published article: "Mandatory presence. Is that still contemporary?"