Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Say chalk!

If I were a government teacher in India, there is only a 50% chance that you would find me teaching in a school, if you came to the school unannounced. This is assuming that I will be present at school. One in four teachers may be absent in a government school. However, that still may not be surprising. Question is what will you do about it? You can't go around with a camera and clicking photographs of teachers who are present, to prove the ones absent and try and do something about them.

But what if you did so?

The urban slum in Delhi, Sangam Vihar again crops up but there are innumerable lessons hidden there. I visited a particular private school in Sangam Vihar which caters to the poor in the surrounding areas. My guess is the parents of the students do not belong to the lowest segment of the poor but probably to the segment of drivers, maids and small grocery shop owners. Well, you get the idea of the segment! While I was waiting in his office, I saw a TV on his desk. Only on close examination, it turned out to be a closed-circuit TV of the classrooms a la the security network of a shopping mall. That is the kind of incentives he has to monitor the teaching activity. (Some would argue he has gone overboard.)

Assume government schools have limited resources. They can't afford CC televisions. What if we had photographs clicked of teachers who came to school and indexed a part of their pay to the number of days attended? Would they attend more? Will the increase of teaching time have an effect on student learning?

It does.

Rema Hanna and Esther Duflo researched such an incentive program by Seva Mandir.
In 60 informal one-teacher schools in rural India, randomly chosen out of 120 (the treatment schools), a financial incentive program was initiated to reduce absenteeism. Teachers were given a camera with a tamper-proof date and time function, along with instructions to have one of the children photograph the teacher and other students at the beginning and end of the school day. The time and date stamps on the photographs were used to track teacher attendance. A teacher's salary was a direct function of his attendance. The remaining 60 schools served as comparison schools.
And the results?
The introduction of the program resulted in an immediate decline in teacher absence. The absence rate (measured using unannounced visits both in treatment and comparison schools) changed from an average of 42 percent in the comparison schools to 22 percent in the treatment schools. When the schools were open, teachers were as likely to be teaching in both types of schools, and the number of students present was roughly the same. The program positively affected child achievement levels: a year after the start of the program, test scores in program schools were 0.17 standard deviations higher than in the comparison schools and children were 40 percent more likely to be admitted into regular schools.
Read more about the research from Monitoring Works: Getting Teachers to Come to School.

So if you want to make teachers attend, click your camera and "say chalk"!

The experiment is innovative but what is interesting to know in whose hands will this tool work better. Any guesses?

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