Teachers overlap classes

Teachers are among the most crucial professionals in any country, tasked with nurturing and educating the next generation. In Nepal, there are over 325,000 teachers teaching grades 1 to 12. This makes teachers one of the largest groups of professionals in this country, much larger than, say, the military. As in many other low-income countries, the absence of teachers in schools is a major concern in Nepal. Common sense tells us that having teachers in school is the first step to effective teaching. Surprisingly, the government does not collect official statistics on teacher absence, which makes it difficult to assess the extent of the problem and find practical solutions.

Teacher absenteeism is the failure of a teacher to show up or stay at work as scheduled, for any reason. Reasons for teacher absenteeism can be grouped into leave of absence (e.g. medical and maternity leave), absences due to official duties (e.g. teacher training) and those working elsewhere while they should teach (eg truancy, moonlighting, tutoring). Global data shows that schools with a higher proportion of students from lower socioeconomic and minority backgrounds tend to have higher teacher absenteeism rates and lower student test scores , making it even more important to address this issue to address long-standing inequalities.

Data gathering

Many countries around the world collect data on teacher absenteeism. There is now a move towards more observational data collection techniques than simply using data from a school principal’s register, which can be hopelessly inaccurate. The World Bank, for example, has developed Service Delivery Indicator (SDI) surveys to collect observational data on the presence of teachers in schools and classrooms. Use of this simple instrument provides useful data to decision makers. Given its importance from a pedagogical perspective, it is essential to collect data on teacher absence, as there is strong evidence of a negative association between teacher absence and learning outcomes. students.

A longitudinal study conducted in the United States in 2007 showed that every 10 days of teacher absence reduced student performance in mathematics by 3.3% of one standard deviation. Additionally, data on teacher absences is critical because the education sector receives one of the largest national budget expenditures, and a large portion of that expenditure goes to teacher salaries and benefits. A large proportion of absent teachers means that large sums of funds already allocated are wasted.

In more advanced countries, teacher absences are handled by a strong system of hiring substitute teachers. These teacher management systems are weak or non-existent in low-income countries like Nepal. Teacher absences are generally less than 5% in many advanced countries such as the United States and Finland. A study in Finland, for example, showed that only around 2-3% of all lower secondary students had repeated absences; teacher absences were even lower or negligible. Teacher absence rates at the primary level are significantly higher in low- and middle-income countries, such as India (25%), Bangladesh (16%), Uganda (27%) and Kenya ( 28%).

If the presence of teachers in schools is essential, their presence in classrooms is what ultimately matters. Teacher absenteeism is therefore best studied at a more granular class level. When observational data is collected during unannounced visits, accurate estimates of teacher instruction can be made. For example, SDI surveys in several sub-Saharan African countries have shown that students receive an average of only 2 hours and 50 minutes of instruction per day, just over half of the scheduled time.

Without data on such a key variable of concern, the Nepalese government cannot assess the magnitude of the problem and begin to explore solutions. Anecdotal evidence and small-scale studies suggest significant teacher absences in Nepalese schools, ranging from 15-40%. According to a study, in some remote rural schools, the problem is more serious and borders on total absenteeism or ghost teachers, because some teachers only come to register their attendance once a month. For estimation purposes, the average of the above range would place Nepal’s teacher absenteeism at the primary level at over 27%. However, a more optimistic estimate could be 25%, similar to India’s absence rate. Bangladesh’s rate is lower due to its effective programs, including the extensive community programs of non-state actors such as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

An estimated 25% teacher absence in Nepal means that every day the equivalent of more than 80,000 teachers would be missing from our schools. This is a substantial educational and financial loss for the country. For government colleagues exploring ways to save valuable public resources, here’s something to focus on and start saving over $70 million a year right away. A more blunt way of looking at it would be to say that we waste more than 25 million rupees a day on teacher absences. Or, with the figures given above, we could build the equivalent of a Bhairahawa International Airport every one to two years.

A complete and accurate loss figure will be difficult to calculate. If we add more granularity to the analysis by calculating the presence and performance of teachers in classrooms and taking into account the massive learning losses and subsequent earnings of students due to teacher absences, the loss would be significantly higher than that quoted above. We will save significant resources if we can better understand this problem and implement programs to address it.

what we can do

The noted loss reflects a colossal governance failure on the part of the government. There is an urgent need to better understand the reasons for teacher absenteeism and to investigate and address the multi-faceted challenges teachers face. Yet no in-depth study has been conducted, reflecting an ostrich-like approach of pretending the problem doesn’t exist. Where these issues have had to be discussed, the tendency has been to shift much of the blame to teachers themselves (as irresponsible professionals) or to teachers’ unions (for exaggerating teachers’ concerns).

A more mature and responsible approach would be to systematically investigate teacher issues and concerns and review successful international experiences. In this process, it will be essential to engage and listen directly to teachers. Various approaches have been tried to solve this pressing problem, with mixed results. The most successful programs in a growing number of advanced countries appear to focus on system-wide reforms, paying greater attention to teachers’ concerns and incentives and greater professionalization of teaching as a that profession. Nepal could learn from these successful policies and programs. But first, he must recognize and assess the magnitude of the problem.

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