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Teacher Accountability And Incentives For Improving School Performance In India

By Swaleha Sindhi

18 October, 2013


Teachers are critical in shaping learning outcomes so efforts to lift the overall quality of education need to consider ways to improve teacher effectiveness. In India high rates of teacher absence and low levels of effort have long been recognized as having a major deleterious impact on school learning (PROBE, 1999). Although teacher absence rates seem to be declining, they remain relatively high (ASER, 2011). From above, it appears that there is a major difference in teacher attendance and observable efforts between public and private schools, which largely reflect differences in employment rules. Where the regular public school teachers are normally employed by state governments on permanent contracts, teachers in private schools are employed at the school level on contractual basis. Evidence on the impact of contract or “para-teachers”, which have been recruited in large numbers by some state governments to fill shortfalls, is consistent with evidence on the effectiveness of private school teachers and further reinforces the importance of effective accountability mechanisms. Para-teachers are recruited locally, normally on a fixed-term contract, to work in public schools. Part of the rationale for recruiting para-teachers was to assist regular teachers but in practice para-teachers often perform the same function as regular teachers, despite being paid a fraction of regular teacher salaries. The teachers in public schools get paid 3-4 times those in a private school (more than 70% of the public education budget is spent on teacher salaries), and the salary structure is seniority-based and not performance-based. Hence the teachers have no motivation to perform well in school, and there is no one to monitor them. It is reported by researchers that contract teachers are more effective than regular teachers. Moving away from permanent contracts and increasing monitoring for public school teachers would likely have a significant positive impact on teacher effort and ultimately the quality of education. Politically, however, this is likely to be very difficult. There has been a long debate about paying the government teachers (and public sector employees, in general) as per their performance. It has been argued that problems like high absenteeism, lack of teaching when in school, and abysmal quality of teaching might be alleviated if the teacher salary is made conditional on outcomes reflecting their performance.

Teaching quality & Student Outcomes

The (EFA) Education for All goals and (MDG) Millennium Development Goals cannot be realized unless needs of all learners are met and this is highly dependent on teaching quality. Teaching quality is a mix of both teacher characteristics, such as inputs (professional qualifications, experience, place of residence, in-service training, etc.), and what the teacher ‘does’ and demonstrates in the classroom (practices, attitudes, content knowledge). It can be understood as teaching that produces learning. In the literature, there are studies which provide information on teaching quality and student outcomes in government and private schools. While there is clear evidence that teacher quality is a key determinant of student learning, little is known about which specific observable characteristics of teachers account for this impact (Rockoff2004; Rivkin et al. 2005). Salaries that teachers draw can also be a factor that can cause demotivation and impact the quality of teaching. Private school teachers in low-fee schools, are generally contractual and do not receive permanent employment benefits as government teachers do.

Teacher Accountability

Teachers in private schools therefore face a stronger accountability mechanism. There are instances of Principal of private schools removing teachers for repeated absence, giving corporal punishments and low student performance in their subjects. But no such cases are seen in case of Public school teachers as these teachers are protected by law. Thus the accountability of the private school teachers ensures positive outcomes for students. Accountability can also be strengthened by increasing community involvement in school management and providing beneficiaries, including parents and other local members of the community, authority to play a role in selecting teachers as well as an appropriate mandate to punish or reward good performance. Such beneficiaries may have a considerable informational advantage over remotely located government officials in monitoring teacher performance and understanding the needs of local students. One can sight to a number of reasons for this low teacher accountability in India is the power of teachers unions, low moral accountability of teachers, and the wrong people entering the teaching professions and so on. But moreover it is the combination of a lack of political will, and a centralized education system, due to which there is low community participation (parents/students have no power) in the education system.


The government education officials, though dissatisfied with how teaching in private schools need to be aware of the challenges currently facing government schools. It is quite important for the education department to think of innovative ways to gain the community’s respect for the schools and is crucial to examine what teaching practices are adopted in the classrooms. Private school teachers are displaying certain teaching behaviors that are leading to better learning outcomes, for example, providing children with regular feedback by correcting their homework regularly, displaying more impartial behavior towards students and showing more belief in the efficacy of their schools. Thus, question is, why are teachers in government schools, who are better trained, better qualified, equipped with better content knowledge, and better paid than private school teachers, not producing better learning outcomes for children?

(Swaleha Sindhi is Assistant Professor in the M.S.Univeristy of Baroda email: [email protected])


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