Research Methodology Into The Problem On Absenteeism

23 Mar 2015

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After thorough analysis and research on the different forms of methodologies which are available, a chosen methodology will be elaborated and its effectiveness in gathering data will be discussed.

This chapter will be determinant in obtaining information and feedback from a private college around Mauritius which has given the permission to reveal its name. Therefore, it would act as a crucial part in the analysis of the different aspects of the project as a whole.

The basis of this research is to bring light and clarity to the problem of absenteeism and its assessment. This research will also be of help to identify variables apart from results to evaluate the level of the problem. But the first milestone will be to assess the awareness of the problem of absenteeism among HSC final year students in the institution.

In this chapter the methodology and research procedures used are presented. The following sections are included; a description of the context in which this study took place and an explanation of the approach used. The data collection methods employed will be examined and validity, reliability and ethical issues will be discussed. In short, the following matters will be discussed:

The study context

Research paradigm

Data gathering methods and instrumentation

Questionnaires

Pilot Test

Interviews

Group selection and size

Reliability

Validity

Ethical issues

3.1 THE STUDY CONTEXT

The study has been carried out in a Private Secondary School for girls. The participants were HSC final year students with their respective form teachers, subject teachers as well as the rector. This was so in order to get a good diagnosis of the problem and be able to make proper recommendations for the future.

3.2 RESEARCH PARADIGM

Before undertaking the research, it is important to know which type of data to collect, how to collect and how to use them (Hitchcock and Hughes, 1995).

Research can be classified as qualitative and quantitative. Research in education has been successful from both approaches. In quantitative research, there are clearly defined questions or hypotheses from the very onset (Fraenkel and Wallen. 1993). These methods imply collecting data that can be numerically measured and analysed statistically to generalized quantifiable conclusions.

As for qualitative research, it refers to studies that analyze the quality of relationships, activities, situations or materials. The attention is on the quality of a particular activity rather than on how it occurs or alternative ways of evaluation (Fraenkel and Wallen. 1993). The research hypotheses emerge as the study develops. This paradigm answers the questions 'how' rather than 'what, when and where'.

According to Hitchcock and Hughes (1995: 25), in education 'the most productive approach is a qualitative one'. The advantages of this approach are that the findings often have greater validity and less artificially as the process of observing phenomena in natural, real-life settings often allow researchers to develop a more accurate understanding of those phenomena. Qualitative research tends to be associated with small-scale studies (Denscombe, 1998), and as such is particularly suited to the research situation.

3.2.1 CASE STUDY APPROACH

In carrying out this study, a case study research has been opted. Case study is an ideal methodology when a holistic, in-depth investigation is needed (Feagin,Orum, & Sjoberg, 1991). Case studies can be used in all types of investigations but according to researchers it has been used to a greater extent in the education sector. Researchers (Yin, Stake and others) have developed strong procedures concerning this methodology as they have got a wide range of experience in this domain. When such procedures are followed, the researcher will be following methods, develop and test, as in any scientific field. According to Stake (1995), whatever the type of study whether experimental or quasi-experimental, the data collection and analysis methods are not exact. They will always hide some details. Case studies, on the other hand, do not hide any details. In fact, they are intended to bring out the details from the viewpoint of the participants by using multiple sources of data.

Yin (1993) has recognized some definite forms of case studies: Exploratory, Explanatory, and Descriptive. Stake (1995) included three others: Intrinsic - when the researcher show an interest in the case; Instrumental - when the case is used to understand more than what appear to be obvious to the observer; Collective - when a group of cases is studied. Exploratory cases are sometimes considered as an introduction to social research. Explanatory case studies are often used for doing investigations, whereby the different causes have to be identified. Descriptive cases require a descriptive theory to be developed before starting the project.

Case studies are multi-perspectives analysis. This means that the researcher considers not just the voice and perspective of the actors, but also of the relevant groups of actors and the interaction between them. This one aspect is a salient point in the characteristic that case studies possess. They give a voice to the powerless and voiceless. When sociological investigations present many studies of the homeless and powerless, they do so from the viewpoint of the "elite" (Feagin, Orum, & Sjoberg, 1991).

Case study is known as a triangulated research strategy. Snow and Anderson (cited in Feagin, Orum, & Sjoberg, 1991) asserted that triangulation can occur with data, investigators, theories, and even methodologies. Stake (1995) argued that the protocols that are used to ensure accuracy and alternative explanations are called triangulation. The need for triangulation is important in order to ensure validity of the process. In case studies, multiple sources of data can be used (Yin, 1984). However, the problem in case studies is to establish meaning rather than location.

Thus, from the above literature, the exploratory and descriptive approaches have been discarded as these methods do not fit the research study. Rather, the explanatory design will be highly suitable as this research is based on the investigation of the causal factors of the problem. At all stages of data collection and analysis consideration has been taken to the fact that there may be distortion, misinterpretation and bias that can prove to be misleading.

3.3 DATA GATHERING METHODS AND INSTRUMENTATION

When it comes to selecting a method for the collection of data, certain strategies will tend to be associated with the use of certain research methods. The choice is influenced by the strategy, but at the same time it reflects preferences about the kind of data that the researcher wishes to obtain and practical considerations related to time, resources and access to the sources of data. Each of the methods has its strengths and weaknesses. M. Denscombe (1998) advises the researcher to choose the most appropriate method suited to the task at hand, and not to think that one data collection method is superior to others. Cohen and Manion (1994) support the views that exclusive reliance on one method may distort the researcher's picture of reality. They also believe that the more the methods contrast with each other, the greater the researcher's confidence.

For this particular research, two popularly employed data collection techniques were resorted to, namely, questionnaires and interviews. Data was collected in October 2010 in Keats College. Two types of questionnaires were prepared: one for subject teachers and form masters of Upper Six classes and the other one for students of Upper Six. Furthermore, a personal oral interview was carried out with the rector of the institution. [See Appendix I]

3.4 QUESTIONNAIRES

A questionnaire is a sequential set of questions specially designed to tackle a specific objective. Hence it is an inexpensive way to get the required information from a large number of respondents. Often they are the only practicable way to reach a large number of reviewers so that statistical analysis can be carried out. A questionnaire may enable to gather subjective and objective data. Similarly, it may also gather quantitative and qualitative data. Henceforth, it is considered to be the most commonly used instrument by most researchers.

In the formulation of the questions, particular attention to the content, to the wording of the questions, to the form of answers and to the sequence of questions was paid. Another aspect to which due attention was given was to set questions which required no great mental effort as such from the respondents. Also, special importance to the overall design and layout of the questionnaire was attached (Munn and Drever, 1995; Johnson and Johnson, 1999). A questionnaire should be designed such that it allows for collection of information that can be used subsequently as data for analysis. It is important that all key matters are covered.

ADVANTAGES OF QUESTIONNAIRES

A questionnaire is easy to administer, quick to fill in and can be answered by all the respondents simultaneously (Hopkins, 1993). The aim, therefore, was to have a quick feedback on the study as time was limited. The questionnaires consisted of close-format, rating scale and a few open-ended questions so as to elicit more profound responses (Cohen, Manion and Morrisson, 2000). The questions dealt about both facts and opinions. Fraenkel and Wallen (1993: 349) emphasize that "close-ended questions are easy to use, score and code for analysis".

LIMITATIONS OF QUESTIONNAIRES

However, sometimes respondents just answer the questionnaire for the sake of the institution as it is an anonymous tool. They may also give bias information as they may not have the information regarding the issue dealt with. Moreover, questionnaires may be sometimes too demanding in terms of lots of small personal questions. In addition, the length of the questionnaires may often discourage the respondents to answer it.

Nevertheless, a questionnaire is very useful in the gathering of primary data and sometimes it reveals the real truth of the actual situations. The questionnaire will be used only to gather information for the teaching staff and students section.

STRUCTURE OF THE QUESTIONNAIRE

The questionnaire was completely designed to look upon the main objectives of the project and in length of the literature review work in order to reflect the true content of the research. In clear words, each section of the questionnaire is related to a particular objective.

Structure of Questionnaire 1: Students (Appendix I)

Section A: Background Information.

This part of the questionnaire will consider the different information regarding the profile of the student. This part will target areas like:

Number of years at the institution

Field of study

Number of siblings in family

It is also important to notice that only HSC final year girl students were taken for the questionnaire as they are more exposed to the problem and that most of them has been in the college for a number of years. There are 3 questions in this part.

Section B: Awareness of the problem

This section consists of a total of 3 questions. It assesses the following points:

Awareness of the problem of absenteeism

Relationship between absenteeism and performance

Days on which students absent themselves the most

Section C: Causal Factors

This part lays emphasis on the main causes of absenteeism. It will target areas like:

Contribution of private tuitions

Contribution of technology

School environment

Curriculum development

Relationship with teachers

Relationship with peers

Relationship with family

Economic factors

Psychological factors

This will enable to know the extent to which absenteeism affects the daily activities and performance of students.

Structure of Questionnaire 2: Educators (Appendix I)

Section A: Background Information.

This part caters for questions regarding specific information about the respondent. These questions cover areas like:

Post

Gender

Age group

Qualification

The number of working experience.

These questions will directly be in line with the level of the staff of the institution, the age group of the respondents and about the experience of the workforce. Although, it is not a direct part which relate to the objectives, but it is important to have a proper definition of the population to which research is being made. About 5 Questions have been addressed in this part.

Section B: Awareness of the problem

This part of the questionnaire analyses issues like:

Awareness of the problem

The relationship of absenteeism with performance

The condition of student absenteeism at the institution

The days on which students absent themselves more often

This part comprises of a number of 6 questions.

Section C: Causal Factors

In this section of the questionnaire, the views of educators regarding the various causes of absenteeism as elaborated from the literature reviews will be analysed. This part is totally in length to produce a consistent strategy to adjust the different areas which contribute to the problem and will also help to identify the main reasons. This part comprises of a number of 2 questions.

Section D: Strategies

The last part of the questionnaire consists of educators' proposals to remedy the problem.

PILOT TEST

Thus, the study of the questionnaires for both students and educators are of utmost importance as it would give an indication about the standing of the research instrument. For this reason, a pilot test was found to be important. This pre-testing will help to make light on issues like:

Whether the questions set in both research tools are well understood and is easy to understand.

Whether respondents are reluctant to answer questions.

The time frame to answer the questionnaire.

The length of the questionnaire. If it is too long or short.

What would discourage them to fill in the questionnaire

Therefore, for this research the pilot test was carried out with a sample of 5 educators and 10 students for the pre-testing stage. With qualitative research every precaution should be taken to interpret the data as they are presented by the respondents. Thus, by including various sources of data in the pilot test, more accuracy, objectivity and rigor have been brought. Triangulation of data sources increases the chances of making the research authentic.

INTERVIEWS

Data was also collected through an interview of the rector as he is the sole person who is going to be aware of all the sources of the problem relating to his institution. The interview took place during my free period so as not to disturb the smooth running of the classes. A semi-structured interview was opted and this enabled deeper exploration. A list of main questions for the interview was planned and salient points regarding the rector's answers were noted down. Afterwards, an exact account of the interview was written.

ADVANTAGES OF INTERVIEW

Face-to-face interview is the most considerable source of information for a case study as it tries to examine and understand experiences of the interviewee compared to impersonal and too formal written questionnaires. This is particularly important in cases where small sample sizes are taken for analysis, which is the case for the study. Also, interviews are more flexible and adaptable to the requirements of any given situation. The interviewer can orient the questions to suit the needs of the interviewee and clarify areas of confusion. This technique can allow an expansion of the perception also as new related ideas may crop up.

LIMITATIONS OF INTERVIEW

As Cohen and Manion (1994) point out, one disadvantage of this method is that it is prone to subjectivity and bias as the interview is conducted by the teacher and the interviewee, in this case, is the rector. Answering questions may be quite embarrassing especially if the interviewee and the interviewer are not very close to each other and if the issue discussed is sensitive. This technique may not be quite reliable to collect enough information about the issue as the researcher's point of views may influence the interviewee to answer questions in a certain way.

GROUP SELECTION AND SIZE

The research sample consisted of 15 educators including 3 form masters and 12 subject teachers of HSC classes out of a total of 50 educators from girls' department of Keats College. Thus, a 30% participation of educators was observed in the study. Among the 15, both male and female are represented.

Moreover, 25 learners out of a total of 65 participated in the study. This represented a participation of about 40% on the part of students. All of them were from Girls' department as they were easily accessible. Also, they were in the average age group 18 to 19. A small sample size was enough as the study was of qualitative nature. The decision to perform the analysis only on the HSC final year students was taken as they are more exposed to the problem. Since it was impossible to analyze the views and meet all the students together during October, random sampling was done. The necessary arrangements for the filling of the 25 questionnaires on the days that the students were present for the Cambridge examinations 2010 were made. Regarding the educators, they were asked to fill in the questionnaires during the recess so as not to disrupt the smooth running of their classes.

The relatively small sample that was chosen might give a rather limited view of the study and the question of generalization might always crop up. But I am among those who strongly believe that there is a certain degree of truth in whatever any person might say as his responses are related to general attitudes existing around him.

3.8 RELIABILITY

Reliability has been ensured by taking the following measures. Some competent and experienced persons in the field of education were asked to verify the content of the questionnaires and to judge whether or not they are appropriate. They were also asked to make reasoned and critical assessments of questions and possible answers. Weaknesses of the instruments were detected and consequently eradicated.

3.9 VALIDITY

An agreement between two efforts to measure the same thing with different methods

[Campbell and Fisk as cited in Hammersley, 1987]

Degree of approximation of 'reality'

[Johnston and Pennypacker, 1980, pp. 190-191]

The following actions were taken for the validity purpose of the study:

Detailed information on the subjects was obtained; unambiguous, easy and accurate responses.

I ensured that significance be clearly and carefully stated on the questionnaire; Moreover, the questions were attractive in appearance, neatly arranged, and plainly duplicated.

Care has been taken to minimize loss of subjects as the latter not only limits generalization but also introduces bias.

Care was also taken to prevent the data collectors from, consciously or unconsciously, distorting the data.

The questionnaires were personally distributed. This helped me to administer the instrument properly, to explain the purpose of the study and the meaning of items that was not clear. Questions were invited and responded before the distribution of the questionnaires. Concerning the students' questionnaires, I had them filled in by the students under supervision. Above all, it was important that questionnaires be distributed only to those who possessed the desired information.

Obviously, I had to make sure that the questions were not long and complex, negative, misleading, double-barreled, emotionally loaded and embarrassing

The questions were presented in good psychological order, proceeding from general to more specific responses.

This research was based upon four characteristics which ensured the validity in communication.

- Truthfulness of statement.

- Comprehensibility of speech.

- Authenticity and sincerity of speakers.

-Appropriateness of the situation. (Habermas in McNiff, 1988)

I can say with a great deal of truth that the instrumentations were implemented in this way, so that no doubt the results and findings were valid and reliable because validity enables the researcher to address his research with honesty and objectivity. Moreover, it is obvious that through this trend of instrumentation, I shall be implementing the technique of qualitative analysis.

3.10 ETHICAL ISSUES

Miles and Huberman (1994) warn the researchers about ethical issues; they are of the opinion that the first ethical issue is how worthy the study is. The sample pupils and educators concerned with the research have been clearly informed of my intention and they were assured of my integrity and the value of my study.

Other ethical issues include anonymity and confidentiality of the respondents.

According to Creswell (1994), the researcher needs to take the welfare of the respondents into consideration. In his words, 'first and foremost the researcher has an obligation to respect his rights, needs, values and the desires of the informants'. Before the interaction with the respondents, I had to ascertain their feelings in this regard. I had to get their permission to involve them in the research.

Arksey and Knight (1999) point out:

' Confidentiality is about not disclosing the identity of study participants, and not attributing comments to individuals in ways that can permit the individuals or institutions with which they are associated to be recognized, unless they have expressly consented to being identified.'

To that effect, the respondents' names were not used so as not to hurt anybody's feelings in disclosing the facts and contents in the data analysis. Furthermore, all the respondents were assured that the information they have disseminated in the questionnaires would be made available only to my supervisor and me. Moreover, I reiterated that the study was exclusively for academic purposes. Prior agreement to my involvement with the prospective participants had been reached through negotiation with the manager of the school.



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