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Camera & cash pill for truant tutors

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MONOBINA GUPTA Delhi Published 15.01.06, 12:00 AM

New Delhi, Jan. 15: At the start of school every day, the teacher sets the camera to take a snap of himself with his students. At close, the routine is repeated.

Special photography classes? No, it’s just to record evidence that the teacher did indeed attend school.

The problem of truancy blighting the school system is not just about students skipping classes. Policymakers in and outside the government have identified teacher absenteeism as one of the main reasons for the poor quality of education and high dropout rate in the country’s schools.

Now, an experiment by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Seva Mandir, an NGO, has pointed a way out.

The project, carried out in 120 single-teacher schools run by the NGO in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district, has been able to improve teacher attendance through a carrot-and-stick policy and direct monitoring.

Each teacher was given a camera and asked to click himself and his students at the start and close of school hours. The camera had functions that prevented any tampering with the date and time.

Each teacher was paid a monthly base salary of Rs 1,000. Based on his attendance, he received a bonus or a fine ? the latter capped at Rs 500 ? which means the salary could range between Rs 500 and Rs 1,300.

In “non-project” schools, teachers were paid Rs 1,000 and given the usual warning that they could be sacked for poor attendance. Dismissal for absence is, however, rare.

The result was impressive. An independent evaluation team led by Vidya Bhavan ? a consortium of Rajasthan schools ? and the MIT’s Poverty Action Lab showed that teacher truancy fell by half in the project schools, with the students receiving about 30 per cent more instruction time.

One of the questions the project asks is: does teacher attendance mean the children learn more?

The project’s preliminary report suggests the answer is “yes”. The children at the project schools “learned significantly more” than those in non-project schools.

Seva Mandir paid the teachers every two months, after collecting the final rolls.

“Teachers received a monthly payment based on the number of ‘valid’ days for which they actually attended, where a valid day was defined by a day where opening and closing pictures were separated by at least five hours and there were a minimum number of children (eight) present in the pictures,” the report says.

Till now, state governments haven’t found a solution to rampant teacher truancy. This has an effect on students’ attendance, too, with parents reluctant to send their children to a school where they do not receive quality education.

The regional disparities in teacher attendance are huge. Maharashtra has the best record with a 14.6 per cent truancy rate ? followed by Gujarat with 17 per cent and Madhya Pradesh with 17.6. The rear is brought up by Jharkhand (41.9 per cent), Bihar (37.8) and Punjab (34.4).

Even when they come to school, teachers often do not teach. A national survey based on unscheduled school inspections found that only 45 per cent were actually teaching at the time of the visits.

Esther Duflo of MIT and Rema Hanna say in the preliminary project report that “if universal primary education is to become a meaningful reality, improving the quality of education is critical”.

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