In India’s Public Education System, Teachers Are Often Truant

Matt Ridley has a chapter in his recent The Evolution of Everything, where he cites evidence the low quality of public education in much of the less-developed world. The quality is so low that many poor parents scrimp to pull together modest funds to send their children to modest private schools where the teachers actually show up.

(p. A1) DEORIA, India — The young man, having skipped school, was there to plead his case, but Manoj Mishra was having none of it. When the truant offered a letter from a relative of a government minister pleading for leniency, Mr. Mishra grabbed it and, with a frown, tore it in half and dropped it to the floor.

Similar scenes played out repeatedly in Mr. Mishra’s fluorescent-lit office recently, as one truant after another appeared before him, trying to explain an absence from school.
But these were not students who had been pulled in for truancy. They were teachers.
Mr. Mishra, a district education officer in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is fighting one of the biggest obstacles to improving the largest primary school system in the world: absent teachers. His tough punishments and refusal to back down, chronicled in the local newspapers, have turned him into a folk hero. As he walks along the dusty streets of the wheat-farming villages a couple of hours’ drive from Nepal, older people touch his feet in a sign of respect. Young women pull out their phones and take selfies by his side.
When Mr. Mishra arrived in Deoria in 2014, 40 percent of the district’s teachers were absent on any given day from its 2,700 schools, he said in a recent interview. Nationwide, nearly 24 percent of rural Indian teachers were absent during random visits for a recent study led by Kar-(p. A6)thik Muralidharan at the University of California, San Diego. Teacher absences run as high as 46 percent in some states.
. . .
With the largest population in the world under the age of 35, India is trying to grow by leveraging what is often called the “demographic dividend.” To prepare more than 200 million primary school children for jobs in a modern work force, India passed legislation a decade ago that more than doubled education spending, increased teacher salaries and reduced class sizes.
But children’s already low performance has fallen. Pratham Education Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts an annual household survey, reported that in 2005 about 60 percent of fifth graders in rural India — where most people live — could read at a minimum second-grade level, but that in 2014 less than 50 percent could.
Teacher truancy is among the more prominent causes of that failure, experts say. Teaching jobs pay well and are sometimes obtained through political connections. But those who get them often do not want to travel to the remote areas where many schools are. In areas with weak local governance, not showing up has become the norm, and people feel powerless to complain.

For the full story, see:
GEETA ANAND. “Saturday Profile; Truant India Teachers, Meet Your Nightmare.” The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 20, 2016): A1 & A6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 19, 2016, and has the title “The Saturday Profile; Fighting Truancy Among India’s Teachers, With a Pistol and a Stick.”)

The Ridley book mentioned above, is:
Ridley, Matt. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. New York: Harper, 2015.

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