Teachers who don’t show up to work cost India $1.5 billion a year

A new study led by Karthik Muralidharan of University of California, San Diego, points out that the cost of teacher absence in India costs more than $1.5 billion per year, reports Quartz India

This is a big problem:

According to a World Bank study based on unannounced visits to government schools, 25% of teachers were absent from school, and only about half were teaching. Absence rates varied from 15% in Maharashtra to 42% in Jharkhand. The study also found that salary is not the determinant of teacher absence—the more educated and experienced teachers who are paid more are as frequently absent as contract teachers who are paid less.

What is the solution?

Apparently, incentives work. Here are the suggestions:

  • Daily cash incentives for coming to work
  • Inspect schools regularly
  • Have better infrastructure at schools
  • Have a paved road to or near the school
  • Monitory teachers daily by cameras


Giving teachers in India bonuses for performance really works, says research

Alex Tabarrok has an interesting article on which points to a very large, randomized experiment by Karthik Muralidharan and others on giving teachers monetary incentives based on the performance of their students in specific subjects, and reports that this significantly improves performances in not only those subjects, but also in other subjects.

Here, it is important to note that we are talking about Indian Schools, run by the government, mostly in rural India. It is also important to note that this is not an armchair philosopher spouting opinions, but actually data from a large, randomized experiment with controls.

Here is some data that really needs to be shouted from the rooftops:

Students who had completed their entire five years of primary school education under the program scored 0.54 and 0.35 standard deviations (SD) higher than those in control schools in math and language tests respectively. These are large effects corresponding to approximately 20 and 14 percentile point improvements at the median of a normal distribution, and are larger than the effects found in most other education interventions in developing countries (see Dhaliwal et al. 2011).

Second, the results suggest that these test score gains represent genuine additions to human capital as opposed to reflecting only ‘teaching to the test’. Students in individual teacher incentive schools score significantly better on both non-repeat as well as repeat questions; on both multiple-choice and free-response questions; and on questions designed to test conceptual understanding as well as questions that could be answered through rote learning. Most importantly, these students also perform significantly better on subjects for which there were no incentives – scoring 0.52 SD and 0.30 SD higher than students in control schools on tests in science and social studies (though the bonuses were paid only for gains in math and language). There was also no differential attrition of students across treatment and control groups and no evidence to suggest any adverse consequences of the programs.

… Finally, our estimates suggest that the individual teacher bonus program was 15-20 times more cost effective at raising test scores than the default ‘education quality improvement’ policy of the Government of India, which is reducing class size from 40 to 30 students per teacher (Govt. of India, 2009).

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