How teacher absences are affecting national growth

With one in five government primary-school teachers being absent from their facilities, developing countries are misspending considerable resources and missing opportunities to educate their children. Even the given figures may be miscalculated, as most of these people don’t provide services even after being physically present. The cause for it could be corruption or weak performance of the institutions, which reduces growth in these developing countries.  These reduced levels of education will impact long-term economic growth since public human capital investment accounts for a large fragment of total investment in many countries.

In many developing countries, the education system is divided between the national and state governments. Teachers are hired and fired by these institutions. An extensive chunk of the educational budget is spent by the state government on paying salaries, and expenditure on other inputs is widely seen as inefficiently low. Salaries are highly correlated to the teacher’s age, experience, educational background and rank. With most of the salaries and promotion based on educational qualifications than on wages, the incentives to work is limited in many developing nations.

While official rules exist for repeated absences, action is rarely taken against these absences. Teachers are almost never fired.  So the mystery for economists may not be why absence from work is high, but why anyone shows up to teach at all. As the incentives given by the government are less and today the teachers have a plethora of options to choose from.

Many informal systems have arisen outside of these formalized systems in response to the disappointing quality and costs of the existing educational institutions. Therefore, informal sectors have become attractive which includes places that are not recognized by the government, for example, private schools, tuitions etc. These places are a captivating alternative for teachers because it provides them with a  curriculum they want to teach. Consequently, this doesn’t mean that public schools are bad. Public school teachers tend to make more money, have a union’s protection etc. Still, some of the government teachers operate private tuitions alongside their jobs, which explains these high absence rates. Ultimately, the availability of  opportunities outside the formal system for teachers are increasing faster than their pay within the government structure

The consequences of teacher absences, on the community, are far greater in developing countries than in developed countries. In these low-income countries, substitutes rarely replace absent teachers, and so students just skip the class or join another class, usually of a  different grade.

The concentration of teachers present in schools can be correlated with various entities like Headteachers are considerably more likely to be absent than regular teachers since they are subject to less monitoring. Teachers from the local area tend to be absent less because they care about their students and the welfare of their community. Teacher absence rates are seen to be lower in places where the parental literacy rate is high. This correlation might be due to the greater demand for education, monitoring ability by educated parents. Using various data and parameters regarding the absences, various economists have come to conclusions like these.

To understand and probably design policies to counter high absence rates, it is fruitful to know whether absences are extended among providers or concentrated among a small number of ‘ghost workers’ who are registered with the central authority but never show up. This problem comes to light due to the weakness of the authority in the sanctioning of these absences among the civil servant teachers. So can we involve the political system to generate stronger supervision of teachers? India is a democratic country, yet, problems like these are not a major election issue. Politicians do not consider campaigning about this as a winning electoral strategy as they think it only caters to one half of the population as most people with political influence send their kids to private schools. But voters in an electoral constituency may still elect a member of parliament as they could use their political influence to get educational funds for their constituency.

So how should we adapt education policies such that we are able to minimize the cost of absences? First, these policies should be designed in a way that takes into account the problem of high absence rates. That could be done in many ways. One of which is by giving the local community more power. The power to hire and fire teachers should be in the community’s hands since they have the best eyes to monitor the daily activities of the civil servants. Further, improving the existing civil service system would bring about the necessary change. For instance, upgrading the infrastructural facilities, increasing incentives and also increasing the quality and the frequency of these inspections.

The excessive absence of teachers is a direct barrier to learning opportunities, especially for poor people who lack alternatives to informal sectors. “A country’s success at economic and social development is defined by whether it can improve the quality of these day-to-day transactions between the public and those delivering public services. In service delivery, quality starts with attendance!


Karan is a third-year Economics and Finance major. In Economics, the field of Microeconomics is of special interest to him. He enjoys watching and playing sports. He feels it is an escape for him from the world. Whenever his day is not going great he watches his favorite teams play to cheer him up.

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