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.
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.
- Teacher absenteeism in schools:
At 25%, 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. 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. 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.
- 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. 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 in the public school system. The students in government schools too are almost always three grades below their expected reading level. 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.
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. 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”,  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.
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.
 Kitchin and Dodge, Manovich
 Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)p.3
 Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)p.4
 Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)p.5
 Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)p.3
 Teacher Absence in India: A Snapshot (Kremer, Muralidharan, etc.; World Bank, Harvard University)