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One in four Canadian teenagers misses class regularly, giving this country one of the highest school-absence rates in the world, a new study says.

The study, released yesterday by the France-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, examined student absenteeism in 27 member nations. Canada had the sixth-highest rate, at 26 per cent.

Spain had the worst rate, with 34 per cent missing class regularly, followed by Denmark, Poland, Greece and New Zealand.

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The United States has a lower absenteeism rate than Canada. Japan's was the lowest: 4 per cent.

Educators fear that students who regularly miss class will have a tough time later. Such students will likely not pursue higher education and may have trouble holding a job, the study's author says.

"At some level, one could say, 'Gee, this is just part of normal adolescent development,' " said Douglas Willms, who is also the director of the University of New Brunswick's Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy. "On the other hand, one ought to take these results seriously because . . . they are associated with a number of social outcomes."

The France-based OECD, an international organization of industrialized, market-economy countries, surveyed 15-year-olds in 2000 and 2002.

About 315,000 students in 42 countries, including the 27 OECD nations, completed pencil-and-paper tests in their schools and filled out questionnaires about themselves. Schools provided further background information to the OECD.

The resulting report draws a distinction between absenteeism and a student's sense of belonging: Whether he or she feels accepted by peers or like an outsider.

A large percentage of Canadian students felt they belong, the survey said. At many schools around the world, the OECD report finds less sense of belonging.

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Worldwide, an average of one in four students say they have a low sense of belonging at school; one in five admit being regularly absent.

Mr. Willms said Canada's high absentee rate could result from a number of factors, such as student-teacher relations and the dis ciplinary climate in the classroom.

While on average more than one-fourth of the students said they missed school or skipped classes, Mr. Willms said that truancy rates varied across the country. The study didn't break down results by province.

Contrary to what might be expected, teenagers who have a low sense of belonging had, on average, literacy skills above the norm.

And those skipping school were not always low achievers, the study said.

Mr. Willms said more needs to be done to monitor student engagement in school. "It's really the thing that employers value most. They value good literacy skills, but they also want young employees to arrive to work on time and participate in group discussions."

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The Canadian Teachers' Federation, which represents teachers in every province and territory from kindergarten through Grade 12, said the study was flawed.

"It opens up more questions than it answers," said president Terry Price.

She said it doesn't answer whether students are missing school because they are working at part-time jobs or not feeling well. "For the most part, no, [absenteeism]is not a huge issue for our teachers that is being expressed consistently," Ms. Price said.

Paul Cappon, director-general of the Council of Ministers of Education, which represents provincial and territorial education ministers, said more study is needed to assess the findings.

Where the truants are

Percentage of students who report low participation in selected OECD countries*

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Top five countries with low participation

Spain: 34%

Denmark: 33%

Poland: 29%

Greece: 29%

New Zealand: 27%

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Other countries

Canada: 26%

United States: 20%

Britain 15%

Germany: 13%

Japan: 4%

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* Participation is classified according to how many times over a two-week period students report they missed school, skipped classes or arrived late.

SOURCE; ORGANIZATION FOR ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT

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