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Schools without teachers

Shanta from the World Bank's Africa blog looks at the relationship between teachers and politicians. One explanation for the poor quality of education in some developing countries is that many teachers are nothing more than political appointees. This often means that they don't bother showing up for work:

One of the reasons why schoolchildren in low-income countries, despite being in school most of the time, seem to be learning very little is that the teacher is often not there. In Uganda, for instance, the teacher absence rate in public primary schools was estimated at 27 percent.

However, the problem may not be the teacher himself, but the political system in which the teacher operates. Many of us have anecdotes about teachers’ being the political operatives in the village: they help the politician get elected, in return for which the politician gives them a job from which they can be absent part of the time. A recent Ph.D. dissertation by Tara Beteille goes beyond anecdotes and provides an analytical framework and empirical evidence (from India) to show that teachers, politicians and government officials depend on each other, sometimes in a “coercive” way that leads to weak teacher accountability and poor learning outcomes.

Shanta suggests that solving the problem of poor education requires political reform.

Greater accountability would be an ideal first step. Progress could be made through increasing political awareness, particularly in a country like India. If voters are aware of the connection between politicians and teachers, they can punish politicians that appoint teachers who have no interest in coming to work.


Submitted by nmjg on
Thanks Brian for this and bringing awareness to such a pertinent issue raised in Shanta's blog. I believe that Tara also looks at the role of interfering middlemen who make promises of assistance to citizens seeking redress for poor service delivery. Apparently, this really creates a kind of spanner in the works, and shows how middlemen can yield gains in such Indian states who fail to deliver education to their citizens. Interesting research in this area is underway - led by Emiliana Vegas in the World Bank's HDNED. Emiliana is actually working with Tara Beteille and Karthik Muraldiharan in examining teacher absenteeism in every single district in India. This will be a huge data collection effort and should yield some very interesting results to better inform processes of state accountability in education.

Submitted by Leslene on
Schools without teachers presents an interesting perpective, but how would Brian explain the situation in Ghana? While I can accept that political connections can play some part in teacher absence, in my experience, refurbishing schools in rurual Ghana, the problem is about funding. Teachers are paid from a central fund that in emerging economies like Ghana, education funds are overcommitted. The result is for months teachers simply don't get paid! I would encourage the development of an education think tank that looks at funding teachers in poorer countries and compensating them properly and the compensation should include some infrastructre assistance. During the 18 months that I have been leading this programme I am constantlly astonished that in some areas of Ghana, there are any schools at all. Schools being held under trees are one thing but there are teachers who teach under those conditions and still cannot rely on being paid, even if they were given jobs as a result of their political connection.

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