The Devil is in the Details: Teacher attendance policies in Uganda

While governments have made a lot of progress in enrolling children in primary schools, trying to hit the 2015 goal of universal primary enrollment, there is a lot of concern about the quality of education these children are receiving. In other words, we wanted to increase education, but we incentivized only schooling and there can often be a big difference between those two constructs.

One of the reasons postulated for poor performance is high teacher absenteeism, especially in harder to monitor rural schools.

Over at Brookings, Ibrahim Kasirye describes an ongoing research project that searches for cost-effective ways to improve teacher attendance.


The project employs monitoring by the Head teacher, by parents, and by both groups with and without financial incentives for teachers.

Here’s a summary of preliminary findings:

When head teachers are in charge of reporting and financial incentives are attached to these reports, independent spot checks show a statistically significant gain of more than 10 percentage points in teacher attendance.  By contrast, effects of non-incentivized schemes and schemes managed by parents alone (because parents on average overstate actual presence more than head teachers)  have weaker and statistically insignificant effects.

We also find that both head teacher and parent monitors systematically understate true teacher absenteeism…   Interestingly, and perhaps more worryingly, truly absent teachers who are reported as present make up about 10 percent of all reports, irrespective of the identity of the monitor or the financial stakes involved. 

So monitoring without financial incentives doesn’t work, and financial incentives can improve attendance, but financial incentives also create opportunities for corruption (presumably when Head teachers report an absent teacher as present so that teacher can get their 30% bonus, there is a kickback to the monitor involved somewhere).

While teacher attendance is most likely to be universally preferred to teacher absenteeism, even increased teacher presence is no guarantee of improved outcomes, as the quality of the teacher and the infrastructure of the classroom are also very important.

Hat tip to Justin Sandefur




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