Is India really heading towards MDG-2?

To meet the Millennium Development Goal with respect to education(MDG-2, India seems to have marched towards this goal on quantitative parameters with gross enrollment, literacy and girls enrollment all improving and drop out rate coming down (see figure). However achievement of this goal numerically masks the deficit on quality front, as revealed by recent surveys on learning achievements of students of class III and V by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and on teacher truancy by Kremer et. al (2005). In NCERT surveys, the mean learning achievements of students of class III in language is found to be just 63.1 per cent and in Maths it was even lower at 58.3 per cent. Further the achievement has varied across states from 45.2 per cent in Madhya Pradesh to 81.8 per cent in Mizoram, reflecting the wide interstate variation. At class V level, language achievement is further lower at 58.6 per cent and maths achievement is 46.5 per cent. Similar interstate variations exist at class V level as well.


One of the important reason for this low achievement level is perhaps the high teacher absenteeism in Government schools {Kremer, et. al and ASER (2007)}. According to Kremer, et. al, India has the second-highest average teacher absence rate among the eight countries for which absence calculations are available; with 25 per cent of teachers, absent from school and another 25-30 per cent in school but not teaching and only about half teaching actively, as observed during unannounced visits to government primary schools. The state-level variation in teachers, those not found engaged in teaching activity ranges from 41 per cent in Maharashtra to 81 per cent in Chhatisgarh. Similarly ASER reveals teacher absenteeism of 9 per cent in primary schools. Despite all this, India is expected to achieve MDG-2 well before 2015. This highlight the loophole in the way the MDG-2 is defined, which only talk of “ensuring that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling,” but makes no mention of the level of learning to be achieved by students completing primary schooling.Looking at the instruments to the problem, higher salaries are usually supposed to be a good incentive or instrument to reduce teacher absenteeism, but this mechanism has not worked and absenteeism is more prevalent among high salaried teachers than those who have lower salaries (Kremer But other possible instruments to answer the problem could be marginal incentives of facilitating travel (one of the reason for teacher absenteeism is distance to travel from home to school), ensuring good working conditions in schools (teacher toilets, availability of electricity etc.), and devolution of �administrative� and �financial powers� to local bodies over hiring, firing and promotion of teachers which can provide alternative source (in addition to the regular inspection of the schools) of supervision and monitoring of teachers because of their closeness to the place of action than the State Directors of Education. However, some of the states have devolved elementary educational responsibilities to the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), but PRIs lacks financial resources to implement their mandates. Assigning more active role to Parent teacher association (PTA) and increasing the frequency of inspections can also be of some help. Clearly, in India the focus has been more on increasing the physical resource base for education and much less attention has been paid to the question of how efficiently the allocated resources are spent. Thus, the government needs to divert attention from ensuring mere �quantity education� to �quality education� and steps are required to curb evil of teacher truancy and ensuring improvement in learning.