Why rural teachers do not need a pay rise

“I will not be teaching you from tomorrow”, the teacher told the class.  “I have been suspended.”

The students exchanged looks.  “What did you do to get suspended ?” asked one student.

“I paid a Rs 50,000 bribe” said the teacher proudly. “I am getting a full 1 year suspension.”

One student stood up at this.  “That’s way too much,” he smirked. “My father is a teacher in Meerut.  He got a 1 year ‘s suspension for just Rs 25,000”.

The teacher looked a little deflated.  Had he paid too much to get himself suspended ?

I might have imagined the incident above, but this probably happened somewhere.  Apparently some teachers are paying  bribes to get themselves suspended.  This is happening, as many such things always seem to, in Uttar Pradesh.

TEACHERS in government- run primary schools in Uttar Pradesh are bribing their seniors to issue suspension letters against them so that they would keep receiving 50 per cent of the monthly salary and pursue other lucrative jobs.

It has also been alleged that many teachers pay bribes to get a posting of their choice or quash a transfer order.

Is there no low to which our teachers won’t go?  I understand the  usual argument that teachers in government schools are paid low wages. but isn’t it enough that they supplement their wages through private tuitions to their own students after school?  Isn’t it enough if they take coaching classes for all manner of entrance tests?  Do they now have to try to do the ultimate have-their-cake-and-eat-it trick of getting paid for not teaching at all?

There was once a time when jobs weren’t as plentiful, and one could still feel some sympathy for the teachers.   But not anymore.

For one thing, there is the absenteeism.  This seems to be a widespread problem – not only in Uttar Pradesh but also in other states like Gujarat.

Obviously, chronic absenteeism means the teachers are most likely moonlighting elsewhere.  Which brings us to the crux of the issue – the low wages aren’t just the whole picture.

Why do these teachers take up the job in the first place, knowing the wages are low?  Is it because they cannot get a higher paying job?  If that is the case, well then, they are being paid what they deserve.

Or, if after a few years on the job, they find that the pay hasn’t risen as much they want, why don’t they quit for more lucrative jobs?  Is it because there are no more lucrative jobs?

But clearly, those chronically absent, moonlighting teachers, and the teachers in U.P. above, are able to get more lucrative jobs.  They just want to keep the stability of a government job as well.  Worse, since the enforcement on teacher attendance is so lax, they are able to go any length in moonlighting and still continue to be on the government rolls.

Increasing teacher pay in rural areas is not the answer.

Yes, I am sure in many states, teacher pay may need to be raised.  (Although, Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution argues that “Indeed, if anything, absenteeism increases with salary (and it is higher in public schools than in private schools, despite lower wages in the latter).”

The point is – if we just raise their wages, rural teachers will continue to draw their higher pay and moonlight.

What we need is attendance and performance-linked pay.  A teacher with a 100% attendance record (and better class performance) should get paid than his less successful peers.  Any teacher with less than 75% attendance should also be summarily dismissed.

This will result in increased pay, but only to those teachers who are actually doing the job.  Those teachers who are moonlighting are already overpaid and redundant.

As long as a stable, government job holds some attraction, there will always be takers for rural teaching jobs.  And  given the state of the agricultural scene and the ills facing rural India in general, I think many will find teaching jobs attractive at current wages.  And perhaps if we stopped paying for all those teachers who never show up, we may have more money left over to reward the ones who really teach.

Eventually, we do have to find more money for rural education.  But there are more important areas to spend the money on – like better infrastructure.  Clean bathrooms, for instance, would increase girls’ attendance. Eventually, we do need to increase teachers’ wages too.  But first, we need to find teachers who will teach.

Firing absent teachers will not cure all the various ills facing rural education, but I think it’s a good place to start.

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14 thoughts on “Why rural teachers do not need a pay rise

  1. Very true. And you raised a good point. Although, I have a feeling that attendance and performance linked pay might just exacerbate the problem. People might again find it lucrative to bribe others into marking a proxy attendance and it is oh so easy to inflate grades of students. There is really no governing body who can go to each school and evaluate.

    It is so infuriating and I don’t have the answer to this. What really is needed is somehow bring a change in the mindset of people. To make in the teaching profession truly understand the value and importance of what they are doing. I don’t know how though. 😦

    • Sigh. You may be right. I was thinking in terms of spot checks by outside inspectors (not the existing govt.-employed ones) , but as you point out, once a teacher starts down the path of bribing people, how difficult is it to bribe any outside inspectors ? 😦

  2. Nice article. Performance-linked pay would mean teachers would encourage cheating and/or would give marks more generously than they should. If they can pay bribes to get suspended, they could certainly do this.

    • The teachers’ evaluations would be suspect, of course. But there should be some way of independently testing students. Given that most children in rural schools, even those who have attended school for a few years cannot write their own name or count to 100, testing itself should be easy, IF you can get an independent, incorruptible evaluator. As Rubicon suggests, that might be a big IF too 😦

  3. Teaching is about passion. When its about a ‘job’ engineered suspensions and such else will be the norm of the day.

    My parents were professors, and i know what it takes to be a good one at that. And also, how one can get by. Doing other things while getting a fat salary !

    Such is the state of affairs !

    • It’s even understandable if not everyone is passionate about teaching and some regard it as just another job. But is it too much to expect that people should do a job that they are being paid to do? 😦

  4. While I agree that performance linked pay is a great idea (for any sector), I will have to disagree with a lot of other premises.
    Yes, there are teachers who shirk work.Yes there is increasing absenteeism.Yes, there is more of it in rural areas. But we also need to acknowledge their issues.
    Many travel miles to reach their schools. Lack of efficient transportation facilities makes that all the more miserable. And to top it, either there would be an abysmally low number of kids in classes or too much kids for them to handle. Either ways, its a burden which is most often ignored by authorities-the more rural and internal you are, the more so.
    Many started their jobs wanting to do something worthwhile-impacting lives.But soon they get disillusioned with the system and lack of support from the authorities.Can we blame them? It is only so much you can do with internal motivation. And they are not even getting paid exorbitant sums. I have talked to a lot of teachers who spends half their salary just to get to one village and get back to their homes.

    At the same time, I do think that with a more efficent monitoring system like maybe performance based pay, things might change. But if we need long term changes, the root causes have to be removed first.

    • You are right – all those issues do exist, and I’m sure there are many genuinely passionate teachers who battle the odds each day to teach. Their proportion may vary by region, but all teachers end up getting a bad name because of the bad eggs. Which was why I was thinking on the lines of an incentive system to reward the good ones and increase their pay. You’re right that long term change means tackling all the ills of rural education, and as I mention at the end of my post, I don’t think performance based pay is a panacea; it’s just a good place to start.

  5. I find I agree with you. But I wonder what it will take for the “government” to wake up and take some action. A lot of such evils are simple to solve yet nobody seems to be bothering. The media and everyone else are busy covering lucrative “fights”. Sigh!

    • I may be cynical, but I believe that the government will itself never do anything unless prodded by the media and/or citizens groups. In this case, rural Indians do need to bring about change – they cannot rely too much on the media or urban Indians because unfortunately, both are clueless about village issues. The good news is, the incentive for education is increasing. College level education now leads to (call center?) jobs, which was not necessarily true earlier. If we get a scenario where even high school level education in rural areas leads to employment, that is when we will see a push from villagers for better education.

  6. Agree with you completely on the need for accountability and results. The public schools here in the US also have problems, although they are nowhere as horrific as in many Indian schools. Here, the teacher’s union ensures that poorly performing teachers continue to hold on to their jobs because of the ridiculous union regulations.
    On the other hand, on a truly heart-warming note, check out this link:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8299780.stm
    If it doesn’t move and inspire you, I don’t know what will!!

    • Thanks for the link! Someone was mentioning this story – was it on NPR ? – but I never found the relevant article. Yes, it’s a really heartwarming story. I wish we had more of those “Each one-Teach one” campaigns (are they still around?).

  7. With Kapil Sibal’s rising concern about government school syllabi, elite grad colleges and new policies, one would expect the situation of edu-sys in the nation to improve in coming years of the current govt. But hey, unless we throw some light on instances, like this particuluar one, you can’t say that we’re growing in education sector. When we say teachers evaluation its not just related to the marks earned by the students but also their overall development. Its so relative, that one may not be able to test it on scale of one to ten. Online tests will reduce the cheating by students, liberal marking by teachers, partiality etc. But for that we’ll first need a very strong rooted network and infracstructure.

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