Improving Teacher Accountability is the Key for a Better Quality of Education in India

It is well documented that the quality of basic public education in India is pathetic! The latest ASER report 2010 clearly shows that. And the newly passed Right to Education (RTE) Act has made things worse by neglecting this very fact, and focusing mainly on the inputs to the education system – school infrastructural needs, student enrollment rates, mid-day meals etc.

Although the student enrolment rates have dramatically improved in the past decade (96.5% of all children in the 6-14 age group enrolled in schools in India), it is still home to almost half of the global illiterate population. Something clearly is not working in the Indian education system. So what is it? And why has it not been fixed?

I point my finger straight on the low teacher accountability in the public education system in India.

Teacher absenteeism is chronic is India, and even if the teachers show up, there is little teaching activity in the public schools. And the result? – i’ve mentioned this in my previous blog, and its worth mentioning again – 6% of 5th Graders cannot read basic text (expected of a 2nd Grader) in their local language, 64% cannot do basic arithmetic function like division, and on an average a quarter of the 8th Graders are not able to answer basic questions on everyday Math. The Grade repetition and drop-out rates are also high by international standards.

One can sight to a number of reasons for this low teacher accountability in India – the power of teachers unions, low moral accountability of teachers, the wrong people entering the teaching professions….and so on. But i think it is the combination of a lack of political will, and a centralized education system, due to which there is low community participation (parents/students have no power) in the education system. The teachers in public schools get paid 3-4 times those in a private school (more than 70% of the public education budget is spent on teacher salaries), and the salary structure is seniority-based and NOT performance-based. Hence the teachers have no motivation to perform well in school, and there is no one to monitor them (school inspectors are corrupt and often bribed).

I’ve heard people say that teacher motivation is low due to a lot of personal problems they face. This is a ridiculous claim.  As hard as it may seem, personal and professional lives should not interfere. This goes for all professions, so why are teachers given an exemption. On top of this, teachers have a ridiculously LARGE amount of vacation days (which only adds to the lack of teaching activity), and they have NO REASON to complain. There are always exceptions to the rule – like a teacher having to travel long distances to go to a school, or a teacher not getting paid on time. These are valid reasons for low teacher motivation….but these reasons are exceptions and not the norm.

People also mention the fact that the wrong people are entering the teaching profession – those who just want an easy, well-paid job, with great long-term benefits and no pressure to perform. But one cannot deny anyone a chance to enter any profession. This is a democracy. And remember, regardless of ones profession, most people are really not that happy with their jobs. But the difference is that in any other profession, if one does not perform well, he/she is fired….or if the person does perform well, he/she is rewarded. There is accountability, and hence, whether one likes his/her job or not, he/she has the motivation and the fear to work hard and perform well. So, why doesn’t this rule apply to the teaching profession in India?? After all, the salary has to be earned; whereas i feel like the public schools in India are like charity – just donating money to the teachers, without demanding anything in return. And common sense will tell us, this is a flawed way to doing things.

Motivated and enthusiastic employees have a direct positive impact on an organization. And the teaching profession is no exception. Teacher presence, activity and quality of teaching, have a direct impact on the student outcomes. And improving all these 3 factors are essential for improving the quality of education – and there is no point ignoring this fact. India needs to wake up, and stop beating around the bush. It is time for India to accept the fact that improving teacher accountability is CRUCIAL and NECESSARY for improving the quality of its education system, and hence, for its future.


About pritamkabe

Originally from Bombay, India. Relocated to the United States in 1997 for attending graduate school at The University of Texas. Completed my Masters in Electrical Engineering in 1999 and then worked in the Hi-Tech industry for the next 11 years in Austin, Texas. I have a passion for travelling, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures...and i've been very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to travel quite a bit. Sports and food are my other big passions in life. Some life-changing experiences in my life a years ago changed my perspective of life, after which, just have an engineering job was not meaningful to me anymore. Hence i quit my engineering career, and I'm now motivated to give back to society and make a positive impact in some way. To get started on that journey, i went back in graduate school, and recently graduated as a "Mid-Career Fellow in Foreign Service", from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, at Georgetown University, Washington DC. Currently in New Delhi, India, on a research fellowship, to learn about the educational issues in India, and brainstorm my ideas about technological interventions for resolving those issues.
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