Syndicate content

Add new comment

Steven: Thanks for your frank comment. While I respect your right to interpret my blog post the way you did, let me clarify a few points. First, I was not "blaming" teachers. On the contrary, as we also showed in the 2004 WDR, public school teachers are stuck in a system of weak or distorted incentives that is reflected in absenteeism, among other things. The challenge is to break out of the system, so that teachers are incentivized to teach and politicians cannot interfere with poor people's education. Incidentally, moving from this low-level equilibrium to a higher one is not easy. We are clearly not advocating "simplistic solutions." Secondly, the cause of teacher absenteeism does not seem to be just "lower teacher salaries" but the way teachers are paid (which is independent of whether they are present or not). In rural areas in many poor countries, there are low-cost private schools that pay teachers even less than the public schools do, but teacher absentee rates are lower. The experience with contract teachers (who also get paid less but whose contract depends on performance) also indicates that it is not the level of teachers' salaries but the nature of the contract that matters. Third, the low level of teachers' knowledge of language in Tanzania (and elsewhere) is a sign that some of these teaching jobs are given as political favors to people who lack the qualifications. I doubt it is a function of cuts in teacher training programs--there is very little evidence that teacher training programs improve student learning outcomes. [The reason is that teachers have little incentive to learn from these programs, since their salaries are independent of their performance). Finally, I would like to turn your comment about World Bank salaries and performance into a question that a colleague once asked me when I was presenting the work on teacher absenteeism: "Everything you say about salaries' being independent of whether people show up for work is also true for World Bank staff. Why don't we see more absenteeim here?" I think the answer has to do with both income and norms. Of course, Bank staff are paid enough that they don't have to seek second jobs. But it's also the case that shirking is frowned upon by your peers, let alone your managers. In the case of public school teachers in low-income settings, perhaps because the salaries are low, absenteeism is not considered a deviation from the norm. Since everybody else does it, I do it. The big question is: How can we move from the low-level equilibrium where absenteeism is the norm, to one where it is the exception? I think you will agree that just raising teachers' salaries is not enough. What else can be done? These are difficult questions, and I hope we can pool our efforts at solutions. Regards, Shanta