Schools without teachers

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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.

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