“Streams of teachers could be seen sprinting across town”

In a recent blog post, I discussed the fact that there is widespread truancy amongst teachers and health workers in India.  Today I read a fantastic piece in the NY Times called “Fighting Truancy Among India’s Teachers, With a Pistol and a Stick.”

Briefly, it about a guy who decided to take matters in his own hands and do something about India’s terrible truancy problem.  Manoj Mishra, an education officer in Uttar Pradesh, has raised teacher attendance to 90%, a far cry from what it was before.  He has also become a local hero to everyone but the teachers themselves.

I imagine Mishra’s techniques are not ones that would be recommended by any NGOs but they do show that one person can make a difference.  Here are some great parts of the story:

a. What he found when first coming to the posting in Deoria:

“Mr. Mishra said he soon discovered that some of the missing teachers lived nowhere near their schools. One lived in the New Delhi suburb of Noida, a two-hour flight from the Deoria area; another in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, more than a thousand miles away. Another had not been seen in school for six years. He says many of them worked other jobs and had bribed his officers into reporting them present.”

b.  Mr. Mishra has some unusual methods of disciplining teachers and protecting himself:

“He [Mishra] had been reprimanded for beating up three teachers with a stick because he believed they had landed their jobs using fraudulent documents.”

“Teachers have threatened to shoot Mr. Mishra, roughed him up, turned his desk upside down and loudly denounced him in protests outside his office. Their allies, including ministers and legislators, have made phone calls and visits, demanding he ease up. Mr. Mishra has responded by packing a loaded pistol in his right front pocket, hiring private security guards and putting cameras in his office.”

c.  Creativity & results:

“Emboldened, Mr. Mishra began leading raids on the schools each month. He set up a toll-free number to report truant teachers, and painted it on every school wall. Locals watched gleefully on the days the schools were inspected, when streams of teachers could be seen sprinting across town trying to reach their classrooms before Mr. Mishra and his officers could get there.”

d. Caveat (or, you can lead a teacher to the school, but you can’t make them teach…)

“Mr. Mishra says making teachers go to school is only one small step forward: ‘Whether they teach or don’t teach, I can’t tell,” he said. “But now, at least, they come to school.’”


This might be why teachers are “missing in action”

I recently discussed the excellent “Missing in action: teacher and health worker absence in developing countries” in my graduate development class. The authors sent enumerators to conduct random visits to primary schools and health clinics in Bangladesh, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Peru and Uganda to see if the teachers and doctors were present.  They found that, on average, “19 percent of teachers and 35 percent of health workers were absent.”

Of all the reasons they investigate for why teachers may not show up at school, the researchers forgot to test for the possibility of rampaging wild animals!  That would certainly cause teachers to think twice when deciding whether to go to school.

Here’s a link to a story yesterday from CNN.  The title pretty much tells you the gist of what happened: “3 mauled as leopard wreaks havoc at Indian school.”   The article states that “an estimated 1,500 leopards were in Karnataka state but that they rarely strayed far into urban areas.”  Rarely, but not never! Can’t be too safe.  Here is a picture of the incident:


I guess it’s better to be “missing in action” because you didn’t show up for the day than “missing in action” because you were killed by a leopard!