Saturday, January 5, 2008

Camera Tricks on Absent Teachers

From Tim Harford's Column in the Financial Times

Esther Duflo, a French economics professor at MIT, wondered whether there was anything that could be done about absentee teachers in rural India, which is a large problem for remote schoolhouses with a single teacher. Duflo and her colleague Rema Hanna took a sample of 120 schools in Rajasthan, chose 60 at random, and sent cameras to teachers in the chosen schools. The cameras had tamper-proof date and time stamps, and the teachers were asked to get a pupil to photograph the teacher with the class at the beginning and the end of each school day.

It was a simple idea, and it worked. Teacher absenteeism plummeted, as measured by random audits, and the class test scores improved markedly.

According to UNICEF India, there is a correlation between teacher absenteeism and simply the daily incentives to appear to work. Better teacher attendances are seen in schools closer to paved roads, schools that are inspected regularly and have better infrastructure. Absenteeism in general increases in low-income states. Obviously can't distribute camera's to ten's of thousands of schools across the country. Any ideas on how to improve teacher absenteeism without resorting to tricks like this? Another thought. Maybe if 60 schools that did not get the camera knew such a system is keeping tabs on teachers, would that have acted as an incentive to show up to school so as not to appear worse off in comparison with the schools with the camera? This was a small scale approach in influencing behavior through monitoring, but it does show that holding individuals accountable through some type of monitoring system- something that is never strongly enforced in India - would act as a pretty strong incentive to modify behavior.

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