Getting teachers to attend school is sometimes more difficult than getting children there. Can monitoring tied to a salary incentive reduce teacher absenteeism in rural schools in India? Will reduced absenteeism increase student achievement? The answer is yes: monitoring made teachers show up, and students learned more too!
Over the past decade many developing countries have expanded primary school access, energized by initiatives such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which call for achieving universal primary education by 2015. However, these improvements in school access have not been accompanied by improvements in school quality. Poor learning outcomes may be due, in part, to high absence rates among teachers, who often lack strong incentives to attend work. There have been relatively few rigorous studies that have evaluated successful interventions to address absenteeism, so little is known about how reduced absenteeism impacts other educational outcomes. If teachers are incentivized to show up to school, is that all they do- or once there do they teach? Do simple financial incentives undermine their motivation to teach well?
Context of the Evaluation:
Despite booming economic growth and an improved educational infrastructure in many regions in India, primary education is lagging in many remote and marginalized communities. Sixty-five percent of surveyed children enrolled in grades 2 through 5 in government primary schools could not read a simple paragraph, and 50 percent could not do simple subtraction. Teacher absenteeism, a pervasive problem in these schools, may contribute to these poor educational outcomes. Disciplinary actions are rarely undertaken against absent teachers: in a survey of 3,000 Indian government schools, only one principal reported a teacher having been fired for poor attendance . This may account for the extremely high rate of teacher absence in India: in schools examined by this study, teachers attended classes about 65 percent of the time.
Details of the Intervention:
This study estimates the effect of incentives on teacher attendance and of increased teacher attendance on students' attendance and abilities in math and language. Seva Mandir, a local NGO, worked with researchers to randomly selected 57 of their informal education centers for the intervention, and 56 for a comparison group. Ordinarily, teachers were paid a salary of Rs. 1,000 (about US$23) for at least 20 days of work per month, and this payment structure remained unchanged for the comparison schools. In the intervention schools, teachers received a Rs. 50 (US$1.15) bonus for each additional day they attended in excess of 20 days, and received a Rs. 50 fine for each of the 20 days they skipped work—however, the fine could not exceed Rs. 500 total, due to ethical and political concerns.. Thus, a monetary incentive was attached to teacher attendance. When these incentives were implemented, monthly pay in the treatment schools ranged from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,300 (US$11.50 to US$29.50).
In order to monitor teacher attendance, Seva Mandir gave each teacher a camera, along with instructions to have one student take a picture of the teacher and the class at the start and close of each school day. The camera's timestamp feature allowed Seva Mand ir to determine when and for how long the teacher was at school.
Results and Policy Lessons:
Impact on Teacher Attendance: The program resulted in an immediate and long lasting improvement in teacher attendance rates in treatment schools. Over the 30 months of the study, teachers at program schools had an absence rate of 21 percent, compared to 44 percent at baseline and 42 percent in the comparison schools. Even four years after the start of the program, teacher attendance remained significantly higher in treatment schools (72 percent attendance) than in comparison schools (61 percent), suggesting that teachers did not change their behavior simply for the evaluation – their response was almost entirely due to the financial incentives.
Impact on Education: Teachers who were at school were just as likely to be teaching in treatment schools compared to comparison schools- they did not just show up for the picture and go home. Student attendance on days the teacher was there was similar in both groups, meaning that students in the treatment group received about 9 percentage points (or 30 percent) more days of instruction on average simply because their teachers were more likely to be at school. This corresponds to 2.7 more days of instruction time a month at treatment schools, and this effect is larger than that of other successful interventions that have been shown to increase child attendance. A year into the program, test scores in the treatment schools were 0.17 standard deviations higher than in the comparison schools. Two and a half years into the program, children from the treatment schools were also 10 percentage points (or 62 percent) more likely to transfer to a formal primary school, which requires passing a competency test.
Replicability in Formal Settings: The question arises as to whether the program can be instituted for regular teachers in government schools. Teachers in government schools are often more politically powerful than teachers in informal or private schools. Thus, it may prove difficult to institute a system in which government teachers would be monitored daily and their pay linked to attendance. However, the above evidence suggests that if teacher attendance can be improved this should flow through into improved test scores.