Manitoba students regularly skip school because they are caring for young children, holding down jobs or taking trips with their parents on northern traplines, a government study says.
The internal study, commissioned by the provincial education department, found that most students aren't playing truant because of substance abuse, gang involvement or a simple dislike of the classroom.
"Child-care issues are a cause for some high school students to miss classes," says the report obtained by The Canadian Press through a Freedom of Information request.
"This includes students who are parents of young children or a new baby, as well as students who are required to stay home to take care of siblings."
Others have been tossed out of their homes and are trying to fend for themselves, the study suggests.
Still others are working to help support their family - something that can lead to them dropping out of school entirely. Although students may work outside of school hours, they are often more tired and likely to "need a break" from classes if they are holding down a job.
Some children in northern Manitoba are required by their parents to work on traplines for extended periods.
And some mothers and fathers in the study blamed Manitoba's harsh winters for keeping children away from their desks.
"Among those in low-income families with small children, it was reported that poor weather can cause some students to stay at home in place of trying to transport children in strollers through difficult snowbound areas."
Education officials in Manitoba say they are concerned about truancy. The province commissioned the study last year to get a handle on the number of students skipping school, and to explore ways to improve graduation rates.
Joanna Blais, director of programs and student services with the Education Department, said children across the province are missing school too often. "It's not just an issue in low-income communities," Ms. Blais said. "It's not just an inner-city issue or a northern issue. It's an issue that's pretty much evident in every school division for different reasons and to different degrees."
The study recommends that all provincial departments work together to tackle the problem, and that they do a better job of educating parents about the importance of school attendance. The province plans to strike a working group in the fall to come up with ways to reduce truancy.
"Any time children and youth are not in school, there is a concern that they are not going to get that educational programming that they need," Ms. Blais said. "They're not going to be able to complete high school. The more time they are away, the more distance there is from being able to actually get credits and graduate."
Manitoba's high school graduation rate is 71 per cent, compared with the national average of 76 per cent.