“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.