Disengaged teachers leads to high absenteeism amongst teachers? Well, there’s a shocker.
Before anyone in India or associated with South Asian origin schools in the Middle East gets too shocked by this data, I fear that if the data was gathered and analyzed for South Asian schools it would show a far more bleak picture. I know teachers from the UK and they talk frequently of a culture that you have to be “knocking at death’s door” before you take time off from school in term time.
However, the challenge I found in India was that the ‘Indian family values’ that actually lead many women in to teaching in the first place undermine their level of engagement and therefore the quality of their contribution too often. (I want to stress, this does inevitably entail generalisation and I’ve known plenty of teachers who didn’t fit this mould. However, it is so widespread as to be legitimate to generalise.)
The law in India gives teachers quite generous allowances for leave/ time off during term time. keeping in mind that the academic year will often be around 190 days, a teacher can be off for up to 5% of the working days without any loss of salary. The vast majority of teachers being female, a times we see some whose family obligations mean that they exceed this figure. In such circumstances you hear reference to ‘leave without pay’, as though this is about nothing more than a financial service transaction.
The uncomfortable and unpalatable truth in such circumstances is that two obvious implications will flow out of these circumstances;
a) Each school has to employ more teachers than it would otherwise need to counteract the fact that the absenteeism must be covered. As a result, those schools have higher costs than they might otherwise need and this is all passed on to the parents in the form of higher fees,
b) Perhaps far more serious – Indian teachers teach a syllabus that is typically shallow and broad, high in volume of content. With so many days missed, invariably the substitute teachers fulfil a purpose of keeping the children engaged, rather than delivering or fulfilling the syllabus requirements. As a result, the teacher has to ‘rush’ the syllabus. This means that they shy away from active learning and fall back in to patterns of rote lessons, lecture delivery and plain old vanilla schooling.
I know I’m on dangerous ground even writing about this. In the past, when I’ve dared to raise these issues in public or open discussion I’ve been attacked by teachers and told to keep my “inappropriate international comparisons” to myself on the basis that they fail to understand “the nature of Indian family values”.
However, any profession that claims to be professional, but is embarassed to talk about such dilemmas openly will always struggle for respect. I’m not sure that I have the answers, especially considering the sheer scale of the challenge. However, I’m pretty certain that nothing gets solved by brushing such issues under the carpet.