A study by the University of California, San Diego, the World Bank and the University of Michigan pegs the annual cost of teacher absenteesim in public schools in India at a whopping $1.5 billion. The researchers found nearly a quarter of the teachers absent during unannounced visits to government schools. Given how teachers’ salaries form the bulk of government spending in the education sector, the study underlines the considerable wastage of public funds. The financial costs aside, teacher absenteeism also does spiraling damage. High pupil-to-teacher and classroom-to-teacher ratios correlate to teacher truancy and, as a result, enrolled students learn precious little—NGO Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013 found nearly half the students in Standard V in government schools unable to read a Standard II level text.
A 2010 study of Indian schools by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that teacher absenteeism fell by 21 percentage points with camera-monitoring of classrooms and linking of teachers’ salaries to their attendance. However, these are not palatable moves for the government. In such a scenario, the government should just scale back its spending in the sector while facilitating greater private sector participation. As it is, parents, even in the rural areas, see better value in private school enrollment—this has increased from 18.7% in 2006 to 29% in 2013, as per ASER 2013. The government, thus, would first need to roll back the Right to Education which unnecessarily burdens private schools. Next, the spending on students could be transferred to guardians directly as cash transfers, giving them the choice to shift wards to private schools. This would also create greater employment opportunities for trained teachers and could perhaps enthuse government teachers to look at private sector employment where their performance can be monitored better.