Basic Education in India – Lack of Teacher Accountability, NOT Technology, is the Real Issue.

I was fortunate to get a research fellowship from Georgetown University this summer to go to India and learn/discuss some of the educational issues in India. I just got back from my 3-month stint, and i wanted to share the things i learnt in India.

Method of my research in India:

– discussions/brainstorming sessions with the local scholars/experts.
– field trips to rural/urban areas both in North and South India.
– attending education related events/seminars.
– reading articles, books, research papers.

Findings/Analysis Based on My Research:

Government Spending on Education:
The Government of India has spent INR 88,000 Crores (~$18 Billion) on education since 2004. There are two ways to look at this: either we should give the Indian government credit for investing in education; or we can ask the question – where is all this money going??

Teacher Salaries:
Less than 5% of the education budget is spent on non-salary recurrent expenditure [Kingdon, 2010]. The government teacher salaries and benefits have increased generously to respectable levels in recent years, due to the 6th pay commission .

Student Enrollment Rates and Access:
The Indian government has done a great job in the last decade in ensuring an increase in student enrolment rates – by building more schools, and by providing free mid-day meals in all schools. More than 97% of schools kids in the 6-14 age group in India are enrolled in schools, and 98% have access to a school within 1Km of their home.

Teacher Qualification and Training:
More than 90% of government school teachers already hold an educational degree. There has also been a lot of focus by organizations (government, private and non-governmental) on teacher training and pedagogy techniques.

School Infrastructure:
The Right to Education (RTE) Act requires that all schools meet a certain minimum infrastructure requirement – example: clean toilet facilities, a playground for kids, a wall around the school. More than 60% of government schools in India currently meet all these requirements, with an increasing trend.

Hence, to summarize, all the inputs to the education system have been taken care of. But what is the output result? What are the students actually learning in schools? According to the latest ASER report 2010, the student learning levels in India are abysmal – 46% of 5th graders cannot read basic text in their local language; and 64% cannot do basic math functions. The drop out rates are very high – more than 50% drop out by 8th grade, and only 12.4% actually graduate from college.

How Can One Explain This???

There is one statistic that really stands out – almost 65% of the teaching resources are wasted in India as a result of combination of teacher absence and inactivity in school classrooms. Teacher absenteeism is chronic in India, and only half the teachers who are actually present in the classroom are actively teaching. The lack of teacher accountability in India stems from poor monitoring, high level of corruption (school inspections are a joke), influence and power of teacher unions, inability to hire/fire teachers, seniority-based salary structure, and the extreme centralized nature of the education system.

Fair Argument?
Some people in India argued, “why not focus on the teachers who do show up and who are motivated?”. And that is a fair argument. But ALL the current educational projects led by the government, NGOs, donors, multilateral organizations and private sector, ARE focused on training teachers, using technology in classrooms etc. But 65% (of wasted teaching resources) is a big number, and one CANNOT ignore/hide from the fact that the teacher accountability issue HAS to be addressed. And the results don’t lie….the quality of education is still very poor…and has not shown signs on improvement. Training a teacher, or giving her salaries increases, is of no use if he/she is NOT motivated, not interested in teaching or getting trained, and if there is a total lack of accountability. I saw well educated/trained/well-paid teachers in urban New Delhi, just not motivated at all in teaching; and met some outstanding/motivated teachers in the non-formal schools of rural Rajasthan who get paid 1/4th or 1/5th of what a government teacher gets paid.

What Needs to be Done?

Ideal Scenario:

  • The teacher profession needs to be made valuable in India – on par with an Engineer, a Doctor or a Lawyer. India needs to bring some fresh blood and enthusiasm in the teaching profession.
  • The teacher unions and teachers should be held accountable. India needs a labor law reform, so that a teacher can be hired or fired relatively easily based on his/her performance.
  • The teacher salary structure needs to be changed from the current seniority-based structure, to a performance-based structure.

The above suggestions are easier said than done. So here is a strategy that CAN be implemented:

Practical Scenario:
Improve the quality of demand, and de-centralize the education system by educating and empowering the parents. Exploit the School Management Committee (SMC) platform, and give a voice/hope to the parents. I attended a SMC meeting between school officials, parents and teachers in Hyderabad, and found that they can be a great platforms for parents to voice their concerns, be heard, and hold the teachers accountable. I also found that since the SMC meeting concept was implemented in the school i visited, the teacher activity went up 50% and there was a noticeable improvement in student outcomes. Hence, i feel that having motivated and confident parents (empowered with school-related information) at these SMC meetings, is a good way to start improving accountability and hence quality in the India education system.

How can Technology help:
India current has over 850 million mobile phone subscribers…and it has some of the lowest mobile phone usage rates in the world. Hence, we can leverage the power of mobile technology, to empower the locals with information for monitoring unmotivated teachers (stick approach), for further helping the teachers who are motivated by providing content on their phones (carrot approach), and for improving the efficiency/capability of the administrative side of the education system.

It is important to note that technology is NOT the silver bullet, and a lot of background work has to be put in for technology to work its magic – for example: the parents need to be educated/trained so that they are motivated to adopt the technology, and for making the best use of it. Teachers too need to be trained for making the best use of the mobile software for downloading/using content in classrooms. Implementing incentive schemes for the teachers and parents for using the technology will also help improve their motivation levels.

Lack of technology, or lack of funds, is NOT the real issue in the Indian education system. All the current educational programs in India are shying away and NOT addressing the root cause of the educational issues. At least from what i saw in India, the real issue in the public education system in India is the lack of accountability, in particular teacher accountability. And unless this issue is addressed, the quality of education in India will NOT improve. It is time we stop ignoring the customer (the parent/student) and start empowering them. The teacher accountability issue in India is a very complicated and difficult issue to deal with. Addressing it will require the will of the Indian government, and an improvement in the quality of demand – in the form of a cultural shift and support from the educated mass. And technology can play its part in creating a positive change ONLY if used the right way, by thinking in terms of the local context – by taking into consideration the social, cultural, and economic conditions.


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.
This entry was posted in Education, ICT for Development, India, International Development. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Basic Education in India – Lack of Teacher Accountability, NOT Technology, is the Real Issue.

  1. Hi Pritam, I was just wondering how did you not broach upon the topic of tuition and coaching classes in the field of education in India. Being in Mumbai, I feel one of the main reasons for teachers not being accountable for their jobs, is the whole culture of tuitions and coaching classes. Over here we have tuitions even for a 1st grader ! I dont know what is the reality in small villages but I believe the same exists in most metro cities. Dont you feel that such a parallel education system should be removed for teachers to do their jobs well at school?

    • pritamkabe says:

      Hi Aparna, true. But if i’m not mistaken, according to the newly passed Right to Education (RTE) Act, teachers are not allowed to teach tuition classes. But as you know, the biggest hurdle in India is not passing laws/regulations, but enforcing them. Also, a lot of the government teachers (especially in rural India), don’t show up to school, and have 2-3 jobs on the sides. This is due to a total lack of accountability. The teacher knows that he/she will never get fired, and will have a steady income coming (as the salary structure is seniority-based and not performance-based). And due to a total lack of moral accountability/responsibility, the teacher has no motivation/incentive to perform well…which is a shame!

  2. Didnt have any idea of what goes on in that part of the country…. which is a shame too. But thanks for sharing this whole article. It is well researched. Do pass on such links more often. Thanks, Aparna

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