Teacher Absenteeism in India versus the Digital Networks


How digital networks and technology can address the problem of teacher absenteeism and increase accountability in public school system in  India

On 1st April 2010, with the passage of the Right to Education Act, India joined the league of nations that secure access to education as a fundamental right of the citizens. Not only this, India set precedent by making the Right to Education Act, the first legislation in the world which puts the onus on the government to ensure the enrollment and completion of the education. The government is also the largest provider of elementary school education with almost 80% of the recognized schools being public schools.[1]

Yet the government has been criticized for the shoddy state of the schools. It has been criticized that the government schools are riddled with mismanagement and teacher absenteeism.

Digital humanities propose that the consumers of the data are also producers of data on digital networks. There are also numerous debates regarding whether internet and the digital networks can help us progress and lead to a more equitable situation. I attempt to look at this situation and see if it is plausible to find a solution to the problem of teacher absenteeism via the use of digital networks and technology.[2]

The Problem:


  • Teacher absenteeism in schools:

At 25%, [3]India is a country with some of the highest rates of teacher absenteeism in the world, especially in government schools. Over numerous studies and research and several surprise checks, it has been found that one in four teachers do not turn up for classes on a given day. This trend has especially been noticed among the more senior teachers and among the more highly paid ones[4]. Hence it can probably be concluded with some certainty that lack of incentives or the attempt to supplement their incomes with parallel jobs is not the reason for absenteeism. The main reason then, probably is the fact that the teachers have no one to be accountable to. Very few head teachers have ever reported firing anyone for absenteeism, especially not a senior teacher. [5]With the high salaries that these teachers receive and the fact that it is not being properly utilized, we could say that a lot of India’s education budget is therefore going down the drain.[6]


  • Skewed pupil-teacher ratio:

Another consequence of teacher absenteeism is the fact that it skews the pupil-teacher ratio. On a given day, one in four teachers is absent and only two are actually engaged in teaching[7]. This leads to a very high student-teacher ratio, and as a result students often end up facing the brunt of the situation.

  • Consequence of teacher absenteeism:

A harmful result of this has been that there is a shortage of 12 million teachers [8]in the public school system. The students in government schools too are almost always three grades below their expected reading level[9]. Teacher absenteeism can be fallout of the fact that there is a lack of investment in teachers’ training an education, though the curriculum is regularly updated to accommodate practices like Continuous Comprehensive Education, etc. Perhaps the teachers are themselves unable to cope with the rapid changes due to lack of training, etc. but this is a conjecture for another paper. Teacher absenteeism has been shown to be potentially lower with better infrastructural support and working conditions[10].

The Plausible Solution:

On 30th October 2012, the Central Square Foundation, a major philanthropic-driven organization with the aim of improving the state of education in India held a seminar in association with NUEPA (National University of Educational Planning and Administration) which discussed whether “Technology is the silver bullet for school education in India”. Prof. Govinda, the Vice Chancellor of NUEPA and the keynote speaker said, “Technology has tremendous potential but has so far bypassed school education in India. India has more than 1.1 million schools and so technology will have to engage at a significant scale to make any meaningful impact”. What this essentially means is that though technology has not been harnessed at the scale at which it could have been, there is still a lot of potential here.

Ashish Dhawan, the founder and CEO of Central Square Foundation has emphasized on the need to harness the power of technology to bridge gaps in the Indian education system in his lecture at the fifth annual School Choice National Conference organized by the Centre of Civil Society.

I believe that the accountability of teachers in school can be increased via technology and community support.

A Facebook  page run by Teach for India fellow Neil Maheshwari about the class that he was teaching.

The Right to Education Act already provides for the formation of SMCs with 75% reservation for parents especially mothers[11]. It is necessary to harness this fact and make sure that the child receives a holistic education in every sense of the term, in which community support is a major component.

For us to harness the use of technology there are a number of things that first need to be addressed as groundwork and a lot of aspects of the situation need to be addressed, Nevertheless it is clear that such a system is indeed possible. A small town called Jun in Spain has harnessed the power of Twitter for better accountability in governance. They have come up with a system where each of the residents have a Twitter account and they can tweet to their mayor or whoever is responsible for the job that needs to be done and because it is all online for the whole world to see, it fosters accountability.


I am certain that if a town can harness digital networks, so can the various government schools in our country:

  • The MHRD had a tie-up with British Canadian company Datawind to provide for low cost tablet computers called Aakash to all university students. This program needs to be extended to the primary and middle school level to provide for tablet computers for children in government schools. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and other organizations like CSF that provide for room for technology and innovation can aid in the scaling up plans.
  • The Continuous Comprehensive Education model that the government has now started following in schools could come up with a national framework and weekly targets for teacher (or each of the schools could decide weekly targets).
  • At the end of each week, a simple checklist is sent out to each of the students on their Aakash tabs in a language that they are proficient or most comfortable in to mark out all that they have learnt/ all that the teacher has covered in school, for all subjects.
  • These weekly reports are sent to the SMCs to monitor.
  • For topics that are not covered or for topics that the students are uncomfortable in, programs like Each One Teach One or MAD could step in. These organizations, where they function have proven to be an effective support system for students already. MOOCs like Khan Academy could also be used for students who are able to follow English satisfactorily, to cover the gaps left in school. This could be done on some chosen remedial days in a week and in an entire revision/remedial week before the exam.
  • Teachers can be asked to use Facebook accounts and Facebook pages to post regular updates about the innovative teaching methods that they use in the classroom. This would not only foster creativity among the teachers but also encourage them to be accountable among their own teaching community and to the SMCs.
  • Programs like Google’s “Helping Women Get Online”, [12] could provide the training to use Facebook, etc. in rural areas, low income areas, etc. where the parents may not be comfortable with harnessing the technology provided.
  • The government could actually tie-up with Airtel, Vodafone, Idea or even use their own BSNL/ MTNL tele-networks to provide better mobile penetration in rural areas (if nothing else, for the sake of better implementation of RTE!) so that the above suggestions can also work in remote areas.

The Jameel Abdul Lateeef Poverty Action Lab came up with a solution for teacher absenteeism in a school in Udaipur where the teachers had to click pictures of themselves at the beginning and end of the day everyday and submit it to the school. The timestamps would reassure the school authorities that the teacher had actually attended school that day. They had to pay a certain amount of fine too, for every 20 days that they missed but the total fine paid could not exceed 500 rupees a year. Hence this too created an ethical and pressure situation on the teachers. This is another method that could be adopted. But J-PAL pointed out that in a government school where many teachers often have political backing, this would be difficult to implement. Hence, I think that a system wherein the stakeholders such as parents come together to monitor the situation is better. Even if the student is a first generation school-goer and his/her parents are illiterate, a simple checklist which signifies that the work is not complete can build pressure on the teachers to not be absent and be more accountable to the ecosystem in which they operate.


Central Square Foundation. http://www.centralsquarefoundation.org/blog/. n.d.

J-PAL. http://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/encouraging-teacher-attendance-through-monitoring-cameras-rural-udaipur-india. n.d.

Kramer, Michael, et al. ” Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot.” (n.d.).

Right to Education. http://righttoeducation.in/. n.d. 20 November 2014.

Roger, F. Hasley and Emiliana Vegars. “No More Cutting Class?” A World Bank Working Paper (n.d.).

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. http://ssa.nic.in/. n.d.

UNICEF. http://www.unicef.org/india/education_6144.htm. n.d.

Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_of_Children_to_Free_and_Compulsory_Education_Act. n.d. 21 November 2014.

—. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarva_Shiksha_Abhiyan. n.d.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_of_Children_to_Free_and_Compulsory_Education_Act

[2] Kitchin and Dodge, Manovich

[3] Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)p.3

[4] Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)p.4

[5] Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)p.5

[6] http://www.centralsquarefoundation.org/blog/do-schools-get-their-money

[7] Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)p.3

[8] http://righttoeducation.in/blog/the-rte-blog/2013/12/23/education-2025-eight-building-blocks

[9] http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/education-plus-development/posts/2014/05/22-india-learning-banerji

[10] Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)

[11] http://righttoeducation.in/know-your-rte/about

[12] http://www.hwgo.com/

Looking at Each Other by Muriel Rukeyser

happiest in transit:

My friends and I often have poetry reading sessions on days when the mellow afternoon sun filters through the winter fog, or on misty nights when the blanket is just not enough and you need the words of another time spoken out to you, expressing your joys and fears and ideas that you feel in that precise moment. We have many many poetry reading sessions, and one of the incredibly tender poems that I discovered recently is this one. Do read.

Originally posted on word pond:

Looking at Each Other

By Muriel Rukeyser

Yes, we were looking at each other
Yes, we knew each other very well
Yes, we had made love with each other many times
Yes, we had heard music together
Yes, we had gone to the sea together
Yes, we had cooked and eaten together
Yes, we had laughed often day and night
Yes, we fought violence and knew violence
Yes, we hated the inner and outer oppression
Yes, that day we were looking at each other
Yes, we saw the sunlight pouring down
Yes, the corner of the table was between us
Yes, our eyes saw each other’s eyes
Yes, our mouths saw each other’s mouths
Yes, our breasts saw each other’s breasts
Yes, our bodies entire saw each other
Yes, it was beginning in each
Yes, it threw waves across our lives
Yes, the pulses were becoming very strong
Yes, the…

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I have been taking a course called “Digital Networks: Work, Play, Disrupt”, taught by Professor Ulises Mejias of SUNY Oswega at Young India Fellowship.

It is a course that explores the power of the internet, social media and how it has progressed, and how we can harness the power of the same (for example, digital journalism).

As a part of this course we are doing an assignment called Tekno Haiku where we basically write a haiku about the impact of the internet. This was my first time writing a haiku. Normally, I stay away from poetry and prefer only to read and enjoy it and not write any myself. But writing these haikus was actually an interesting experience for me which I wanted to share here.

Tekno Haiku 1

This was originally conceived as:

Talking to you, seemed beautiful

Governed solely by social media gods but

Difficult to recognize when unmasked

(Edited to the above due to the restrictions imposed by the template).

TeknoHaiku #2

Tekno Haiku 3

I only hope this is a good first attempt and you are not rolling your eyes across the screen. As for me, I think I will be writing haikus more often now.

For more of such haikus, visit: http://teknohaiku.ulisesmejias.com/archive.php


Yours Truly

Conflicts in Patronage

Featured Image -- 324

happiest in transit:

This blog post is my art project which I and a dear friend of mine undertook. We are attempting to explore the various debates that intersperse notions of art. We begin with exploring something very vital to us- Does state patronage to artists repress their freedom?
Head over to the blog and give it a read. Also, join the debate. Hoping to hear from you.

Originally posted on The Chiaroscuro Blog: Art Matters:

The first debate here, explores the diversified sources of patronage that the artists are able to reach out to, today and whether state patronage is repressive for artists. We present here only the debate. But you can also access our full newsletter and Letters to the Editor at the end of this post.

Does state funding helps artists at all? Roy’s Response
“I would rather have as my patron a host of anonymous citizens digging into their own pockets for the price of a book or a magazine than a small body of enlightened, responsible men administering it”.
-John Updike
This quote by John Updike though said for literary arts, is almost as pertinent for visual arts. Right from the time of the Church or the Medicis in Florence or even King Louis XVI in France, state funding of the arts has been for the purpose of glorifying the state. Art…

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In Search of the Splendid Suns- The Street Children of Zamrudpur

Street children

I originally wrote this article in January 2014, researching for University Express, a Delhi University digital newspaper that I was a columnist for, and later for my College Magazine. I felt that the realizations of that day also need to be up on this blog especially with Bachpan Bachao Andolan and Kailash Satyarthi winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

The day I went to research for this article, was the day it was driven into my psyche just how privileged a position I am in. It all started when a photographer friend wanted to find out more about the street children of Zamrudpur, who play near our college like they have not a care in the world.

It was amazing how little things can delight these children. A toffee worth a rupee brought from the neighbouring shop so that they would warm up to me while I wormed out the truth about their lives. Their sheer enthusiasm for pictures, at the chance to 15 seconds (or less!) of fame when we told that we were doing this for a “newspaper”. They were ready to be captured on the lenses of two random women and attempt to burnish their faces in the memories of people they didn’t know in order to create an illusion of fame around themselves- glorify their poverty, perhaps, as countless other photographers and reporters had done before. It felt as if they were trying to use the voyeurism of our times as leverage.

In the tiny alleyways of Zamrudpur- hidden behind the glitz and glamour and an almost blindingly stellar show of wealth of the posh Greater Kailash locality are children who live their lives by fighting. Fighting the cold by wearing sheer cotton clothes of cheap quality, the kind that bruises your skin. Fighting the pimps who are trying to use them as props to gather more wealth and later sell them off in the human trafficking business. Fighting the guardians who are discouraging them from going to school which will help them escape the system. Yet these children do not find much amiss in their lives. Except perhaps missing the chance to score a photograph because they were having their daily cuppa of tea.

Before I entered the bylanes of Zamrudpur, I had put away my valuables in my bag from where things could not be picked up easily. I had had the rather disturbing thought that poverty obviously makes a victim of all in its path and drives them to do desperate things even as they lose their integrity. And in this, I had absolutely discounted the sheer innocence of children like Gayatri. Children who are not afraid to smile at strangers. Children who do not move away hurriedly and look at every approaching person with a cynic’s eye. Children who are unafraid because they are in possession of the liberating knowledge that they have nothing to lose by sharing a smile or making a stranger feel a part of their world.

In spite of staying at a place where they are unable to afford much comfort, where one is susceptible to diseases, where one lives in an environment which may guarantee an early death and one may not live to see one’s youth. A place that makes sure you have to constantly fight to rise up and nothing comes easy.  A place sullied by every kind of literal and metaphorical germs; where roads are caked in cow dung. Here, in such a place, you will find children on throes of adolescence, discovering and perceiving the world through a bubble of innocence in spite of their situation and taking everything head on, as it comes.

The complete breakdown of civil infrastructure and the complete (probable) ignorance of the civil authorities in this area does hit you hard. But what is more bothersome is that this area lies sandwiched between those that have an obscene amount of power and privilege. The innocence is heartwarming but their situation is horrifying.

It is horrifying to think that bang opposite my college is a world where people are struggling to escape this ghettoization and occupy spaces we take for granted. And we are not giving them a chance to fair competition or better lives. We are actively repressing the fact that these people can rise above that of being a part of the motley crew of our domestic helps and look into our eyes as equals.

We can all parrot and preach about social inequality but how many politicians who live in this area actually bother to find out the reality of these lives. Or are they content with just scrunching up their noses and driving past the problem? And while journalism regularly celebrates the success of such children, why then is someone not raising the issue of their desperate situation? Of the shoddy education received, the broken houses and half made roads that they are forced to call their homes?

The sheer irony perhaps lies in the fact that in spite of the best of their efforts, these people are absolutely unable to cross over. In this cosy locality of Lajpat Nagar IV in South Delhi, power and poverty are neighbours but the twain shall never meet.

Apologies for the Inconvenience/ Part-time Lover

I have the most inconvenient lovers. The best friend of my first lover. The brother of my best friend. That classmate who will forever be in love with another girl, but is ready to take me in his arms and make love to me while constantly calling out her name. And then there is you.

I don’t know why I allow you into the inner recesses of my body and soul. I don’t know why I allow these people to find me desirable and, still not enough to share their souls. Lovers who claim they don’t really know what love is.

I don’t know why I take lovers with whom the boundaries of love and lust will never be defined. Even though when you take me in your arms, you can’t love me back. I don’t know if I am broken and if you are as broken as I am and I allow you because I feel as if in the way you caress my fingers, you somehow are able to complete me like a piece of a puzzle. And I don’t know when you will caress my fingers next.

I wait. I wait till the marks of that night, many nights ago, die down. I wait till I no longer look like a woman who has been owned for a night. Owned and abandoned. I wait with bated breath for you to reach out, every time solitude finds in us a companion.

Reach out to feel my calloused palms. Reach out to start a new adventure. Reach out to fix me. Reach out to feel my curves. Reach out to tell me to look at you, till you become my favourite new feeling. Reach out to be unrelenting and change the contours of my body. Again and again and again.

I look at you from the corner of my eye, every time we are in the same room. I wonder if you are ever going to find me as fascinating as you once did. I wonder if you are ever going to notice how you have changed me. I wonder how I can get your attention. I wonder if you are ever going to suddenly lean in and smell my hair before approaching the outlines of my lips. I wait for a hint of recognition in you. I wait for you to challenge me again and I wait for you to tell me that you find me intellectually stimulating.

I wonder if our lust can ever transcend into something a little more stable, not solely dependent on your moods and my desires. I wonder if on some nights you will ever ask me to come over, come sleep by you, comfort you. I wonder if we will ever again be normal around each other, if you will ever stop being condescending, if you will ever stop teasing me. I wonder whether you run your hands over your body to remember our nights together, like I do for you. I am waiting to slip into an intimacy from which we will never recover.

I wonder what it will take for me to get your attention, to stop occupying my mind and to not be an inconvenient lover.

A heap of broken images.

He first came to me as a profile picture. Sepia-toned and a smile that said condescending and nice at the same time. He began to take shape in comments. Witty, nice, about writing and True Detective and the Fellowship. He began to fill up my notifications- some stray posts and then all the time because I had stalked him so much, trying to decipher him. Trying to make sense of the person that the prospect of being future classmates had thrown up in my way, who so fascinated me. But I did not quite go a long way.

He slowly climbed the top of the list of people I wanted to befriend.  As if I were ever able to accomplish any of the million lists that I made.

I wanted to find occasions to talk to him. About writing, his and mine; about books, about music, about his life and discover how it so entangles with mine that I must feel this irrational force gravitating me towards him merely by the words that he had used in an intangible space.

And I prayed to the fates to give me a legitimate reason to actually cross his path. But when have the fates actually been so kind to grant us our whimsies. They pull back and wait and judge and push us to the point of nervousness and tie our stomachs up in a knot, till we are allowed to be granted a millionth part  of what we actually wanted. We did not know well enough, it had been deemed.

And as much as I tried to make sure our paths cross, we kept getting pulled in by two different vortex just that much.

I took it as a sign. Yet my stomach would produce a hundred butterflies to play around there every time I saw him and my system would make sure that blood rushed to my face so much so, that I couldn’t look at him in the eye or speak a coherent sentence around him.

Elevators and those irrationally large number of times I ran into him in one, became the moments I cherished the most in my entire day. I became good at small talk. I loved the “What’s Up? How was your day?” routine we did. I ran into him at a party and heard him strum on a guitar. There seemed to be hope.

I’d still end up on his profile in a few clicks, every time I was on Facebook. Yet I never quite got the courage to start a covert conversation with him. I didn’t know what he would think or say or feel about it. And I didn’t want my crawlingly slow progress in the elevator to backfire.

I  started to think of him as the ideal guy, just by piecing together all that we had spoken about.

And then our habitats changed. We stopped running into each other in elevators. I kept replaying our little conversations in my head.

Now I’d just wait covertly tracking all his moves. Online. Offline.

Oh, look now. We are both late for class. Oh look, he comes and sits next to me while my heartbeat rises to a crescendo of its own and my hands become sweaty and my mind conjures up a million stories and I continue to remain tongue-tied.

The few times that we are stuck in the elevator, all possible scenarios and inappropriate hopes of stealing a kiss pop up in my head.

We talk, we do talk. This one time, accidentally, about what we like. Our dreams and hopes and what fascinates us, and that remains among my favourite conversations among the many amazing ones that I have had in this cocoon.

And yet, all of this, all this stray incidents here and there, scattered around in the few moments of my day, remain just that. Stray incidents that have lost all hope of being pieced together to form a larger whole.

This post is perhaps best read as spoken word poetry.