As students become afflicted with illness during the winter months, many feel obligated to sacrifice their health to maintain good attendance. They drag themselves to school with high fevers, coughing fits, and body aches. The school community should spread the notion that a student’s health should come first.
Sickness strikes at inconvenient times without regards to students’ lives. This is why many decide to attend school while sick, typically referred to as sickness presence (SP), as it is called in many studies. One multinational study found that students attend school while sick because they worry about the negative impact on their grades. However, SP can actually reduce work capacity, influence the quality and quantity of work, and have negative long-term effects on a person’s well-being. Thus, by trying to avoid such implications by attending school while sick, students may actually experience the same effects that they think missing school will have.
While sick, students tend to make more errors in their schoolwork as more effort is required to achieve their usual level of performance. They must overcome the distractions of illness, making work capacity and performance constrained. This runs counterintuitive to students’ efforts to not fall behind.
In addition, two studies of workers in Denmark and Sweden found that people who have high SP have a higher risk of a long period of sickness in the future. Thus, when students make it a habit to always go to school despite being sick, the immediate gain is that they will not fall behind at that moment. However, they will most likely experience poor health in the future with more severe ramifications, making them miss school for a longer period of time. Continuous SP can increase the risk of burnout, emotional exhaustion, depression and anxiety, and can reduce feelings of personal accomplishment. Students may become worn-out and unmotivated as they work through their sickness, all while not learning at their highest potential.
To combat SP, the school should acknowledge its presence among students and recognize the negative effects it has on student performance and health. Students, too, need to be aware of the effects of SP on their personal well-being.
By recognizing the need to discourage SP, the school can create a healthier environment while removing the stigma that people who work while sick are more hardworking and praise-worthy. Additionally, students may feel less guilty for missing school if teachers make it a point to accommodate absent students through make-up work. By doing so, students may worry less about missing school. Faculty should set an example and show that being absent for health reasons is acceptable.
The school can also offer more wellness programs and support that would allow students to express their anxiety and stress. By encouraging healthier lifestyle practices, students may have a better quality of learning and well-being.
For these reasons, students should not feel guilty when they miss school. Students should consider the magnitude of their illness and their state of recovery when it comes to deciding whether to go to school or not. Ultimately, it comes down to the student.