The popular narrative around government schools is that its teachers miss classes with alarming frequency . But a recent study conducted by the not-for-profit Azim Premji Foundation has found that teacher absenteeism, without a legitimate reason, in government schools in India is as low as 2.5%.
The Teacher Absenteeism Study states that while there are reasons school teachers may not show up in class, it has less to do with delinquency on the part of the teachers and more to do with systemic challenges. And that the latter needs to be taken into consideration while talking about "accountability".
In fact, the study has found that claims of high teacher absenteeism in government schools is highly exaggerated.
Government school teachers, the study observes, are a motivated group and have to overcome hurdles in their work environment.
"Our experience of 16 years of working with teachers suggests that on the average government school teachers are a committed lot, and many demonstrate exemplary commitment. Their effectiveness is dependent on their work environment and the support they get. Clearly, the matter of teacher absenteeism is not as big an issue as it is made out to be," said Anish Madhavan, Head of Field Research, Azim Premji Foundation.
Several studies in the past, and news reports too, have attempted to shed light on the issue of teacher absenteeism in state-run schools of the country.
But, according to the Teacher Absenteeism Study, many studies do not pay attention to the reasons for absence, including the difficult circumstances they work under--such as remote location, lack of infrastructure and shortage of teachers.
"... reasons, given the realities of the government school system, range from official duties (academic and administrative) and official other departmental work to legitimate leaves that teachers are entitled to under their service conditions. Instead, teacher absence, at least in the popular narrative, is equated with teacher absenteeism," the study mentions.
Distance from the school was found to have made a significant difference to the level of teacherâ€™s involvement with their students.
For instance, in one school in Yadgiri, Karnataka, teachers decided to stay in a village so that better understand the community and help students after school hours. In another school in Tonk, Rajasthan, teachers had to use several modes of transport to get to the school.
By focusing on this one issue solely, the study says, other equally important issues plaguing school reform are often side-lined.
"Here, we see teachers, who are committed and motivated, working under sometimes very adverse circumstances but deeply invested in the outcomes of their endeavours," the study report states.
But what motivates them to work under such circumstances?
Interestingly, many of the teachers that the researchers spoke to said that what drove them were not idealistic motives and passion for teaching. It was more a matter of convenience, availability of opportunities and economic considerations.
They, however, added that over time they have learnt to appreciate the significance of their work, which has helped them remain motivated and committed to work.
The study lastly points out that that blaming teachers for systemic issues beyond their control is likely to be counterproductive and could adversely affect the government school system.