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Analysis

India’s Absent Teachers: Not As Big A Problem As We Think

Often when teachers were not present physically in the classroom, it was for official reasons, such as trainings, data collection, and authorised leave, the study found.

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Hiralal, a 36-year old headteacher in a small government school in Basarpur, a village in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, was absent 45 out of 200 working days (22.5%), the school time prescribed by the Right to Education (RTE) Act. (The name of the teacher and the school have been changed to maintain confidentiality.) In a country where only 59% of grade III children can read and understand a passage, according to the government’s National Achievement Survey, good quality teaching could be key to changing the school environment and encouraging learning.

Contrary to common perception, Hiralal was not absent because he had decided to skip school without legitimate reasons; he was absent 21 days because of official reasons such as examination duty, trainings and election-related duty, and 15 days for personal reasons, including 10 medical leaves, which he was entitled to as part of his contract. On average, teachers at Basarpur School were on official duty for 16 of 200 days (8.4%).

While overall teacher absence was 18.9%, teacher absenteeism without reason or because of truancy was only 2.5%, according to a recent study conducted by the Azim Premji Foundation, a non-profit that works in education across six states–Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Hiralal’s case study was a part of this research, which covered 619 government schools with 2,861 teachers.

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Source: Azim Premji University
Note: As ‘overall absence’ and ‘reasons for absence’ are calculated based on the bases/counts of properly recorded responses for the relevant variables, there are small differences in the respective totals.

The study might not be generalisable to all government schools in India, as the schools were not selected randomly, and were from districts and blocks the Azim Premji Foundation works in. These include some of the most disadvantaged in the country.

Data and information about teacher absence from schools are often conflated with teacher absenteeism. Teachers might be ‘absent’ from classrooms because of several legitimate, and sometimes even useful, reasons, known as ‘teacher absence’. On the other hand, ‘teacher absenteeism’ refers to teachers being absent from school without a legitimate reason, that is, truancy. Confusing teacher absence with teacher absenteeism could lead to ineffective policy, and unfair and demotivating vilification of teachers.

Teacher absence mostly for ‘official’ reasons

Often when teachers were not present physically in the classroom, it was for official reasons, such as trainings, data collection, and authorised leave, the study found.

Official reasons for absence include ‘official academic duties’, such as trainings and cluster meetings; ‘official school administrative duties’ such as data collection, submission of reports or data related to the mid-day meal program, children with special needs, and work related to various student-incentive programs such as distribution of textbooks, and ‘official other departmental work’ which included work related to elections, census surveys etc.

Several studies have found a large difference between teacher absence and teacher absenteeism.

For instance, teacher absence was found to be 23.64%, in a 2016 World Bank Group study, while teacher absenteeism without reason was 4.7%.

Despite this, popular discourse on teacher accountability, and senior government officers, often refer to remarkably high figures of teacher absenteeism–around 25%, but sometimes even as high as 50%–without citing any research evidence.

Teachers face tough conditions in schools

On a regular school day, Hiralal, a thin man with a calm temperament, rides his motorcycle to Basarpur School, one of more than a million elementary schools in the country. Hiralal mostly reaches the school 15 minutes before the school—with 82 students in grades I to V, three full-time teachers, and one temporary teacher—starts.

Its students are mostly Kanjars, a historically nomadic community which primarily produces liquor and runs brothels, according to community members. The community finds it difficult to make their children’s education a priority, they said.

It was largely due to the efforts of Hiralal–who chiefly teaches mathematics and environmental science–that the school was set up in 2001, and has been running since then, with rising enrolment. Until a school building was sanctioned in 2007, Hiralal paid the monthly rent of Rs 200 for a school building out of his pocket.

Teachers at the school face many challenges: The school mainly targets marginalised communities who cannot provide adequate home support for their children, it doesn’t have adequate infrastructure, fewer teachers than even the number of grades in the school, and little monitoring or support by district and block-level education officers. It takes two of the teachers between one and two hours to reach school (higher commute times have been linked with greater teacher absenteeism), and still they mostly attended school regularly and punctually, and took about 11 authorised personal leaves, on average.

Should we consider the possibility that the nature of teaching itself encourages teachers to be committed and motivated, and hold themselves accountable without external monitoring, provided there is an enabling work environment that facilitates collegiality and trust?

To reduce teacher absence from classrooms, important to know why teachers are absent

Teacher absenteeism is often seen as the single most critical issue that is plaguing the government school system. For example, the government suggested biometric systems as a means to curb teacher absenteeism in its 2016-17 economic survey.

The new evidence from this study, and some previous evidence, begs the question: Should we instead focus our energies on systemic reform in the education system through ensuring adequate number of trained teachers, making relevant and good quality continuous professional development opportunities available for them, and by doing away with non-academic duties of teachers?

A culture of targeting and blaming teachers–who often work in challenging situations–for matters that are beyond their control might be counterproductive and adversely affect the government school system.

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with whom Mukta Patil is an analyst. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at [email protected])

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Analysis

Yeddy does ‘Atal’, deals blow to BJP’s south strategy

With Karnataka gone now, Yeddyurappa made an emotional last bid to win people’s heart ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

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BS Yeddyurappa

New Delhi, May 19 : The BJP’s efforts to expand in southern states suffered a blow on Saturday with its two-day old government collapsing as Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa resigned before a trust vote in an assembly where no party has majority.

The party now hopes that the move, akin to what then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did in 1996 after failing to garner enough support for his 13-day old government, will help it gain sympathy in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Despite knowing the fact that it was short of the required numbers, the BJP leadership went ahead to stake claim and took risk of allowing Yeddyurappa to take oath as Chief Minister.

This is what Vajpayee — the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Minister — did almost 22 years ago.

The BJP, which considers Karnataka as its gateway to south, tried its best to win the trust vote after forming the government on Thursday but failed to sustain it.

Despite this, BJP leaders are hopeful Yeddyurappa’s emotional speech in the Assembly before resigning and clearing his vision for the cause of farmers and downtrodden, will help the party in 2019 elections.

“Yeddyurappa did the same way Atal Bihari Vajpayee made his speech in the Lok Sabha in 1996 before resigning as the Prime Minister,” a senior BJP functionary told IANS, recalling how the BJP-led NDA returned with a thumping majority in the elections that followed.

“The BJP surged all over the country and formed governments (in many states) with coalition as well as of its own in 2014. We are hopeful of emerging in south too through Yeddyurappa,” he said.

With the possibility of relatively fewer seats in the Hindi belt states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and other north Indian states during the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, BJP President Amit Shah has been working on a strategy to compensate a bit from the probable loss of seats in southern part of the country.

But after Yeddyurappa’s resignation, Shah’s startegy has suffered a jolt as it provided an opportunity to the opposition camp to remain united.

The Assembly poll results clearly indicate that if the Congress and JD-S join hands in 2019, it will be a tough task for the BJP.

In 2014, the BJP had won 17 out of total 28 Lok Sabha seats of Karnataka. Out of total 129 seats of southeren states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerela, the BJP could win only 21 in 2014.

With the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) quitting the NDA, the BJP has already suffered a jolt in south as its position has weakened considerably in Andhra Pradesh where Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu is campaigning against the Modi government for not meeting the demand of special status to the state.

To compensate TDP’s departure from the NDA, the BJP has been eying YSR Congress. But that looks like not an easy task as YSR Congress itself has been vehemently opposing the Modi government for not meeting the demand of special status.

In 2014, the BJP could won only two out of 25 seats in Lok Sabha in Andhra Pradesh.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is also facing the ire of the people as the Union government has failed yet to constitute a Cauvery Management Board.

With AIADMK in power and DMK as the main opposition, the BJP has very little space for its emergence in the state. In the 2016 state Assembly elections, the BJP even found it hard to identify candidates for the 234 constituencies in the Dravidian state.

The BJP is now trying to make inroads in Kerala but it will again not be an easy cup of tea for the party.

Although the BJP improved its vote share by around nine per cent in 2016 state Assembly elections, but it failed to stop Left Democratic Front from retaining power. In that year, the BJP opened an account in the state assembly — a first in the history of Kerala.

The BJP is hopeful of gaining ground in Telangana but faces a tough contest from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Congress. In 2014, it could win only one seat out of total 17 in the state.

Now, with the country all set to face general elections next year, the only state through which the BJP could have made inroads in south was Karnataka.

With Karnataka gone now, Yeddyurappa made an emotional last bid to win people’s heart ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

“I will travel across the state non stop. We have received tremendous love and support across the state. For 2019, I promise, we will win 28 out of all 28 Lok Sabha seats. I won’t relent. I will continue to fight till my last breath,” he said in the Assembly, before meeting Governor Vajubhai Vala to resign.

(Brajendra Nath Singh can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

It’s about anything but Jinnah, says AMU community over controversy

Of the students and teachers unions raising questions on the impartiality of the local administration, Peerzada said the AMUSU and AMUTA were independent bodies and were “entitled to their views”.

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Jinnah row at AMU

There is consensus not only among the students, teachers and the administration of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) but also locals that, contrary to the perception created by media reports, the recent controversy and violence around the over the 143-year-old varsity has little to do with the portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. And there is more to it than what meets the eye.

One of the reasons behind this widespread scepticism is the fact that the man who stirred the controversy — BJP Lok Sabha MP from Aligarh Satish Gautam — had been a member of the AMU Court between 2014 and 2017. Why didn’t he raise the issue earlier, and how come his letter flagging the issue was leaked to the media even before it reached the Vice Chancellor office, ask those in the AMU community.

Of the “real purpose” behind the attack on the varsity by Hindutva activists, however, there are diverse views. While some insist on linking the entire episode with the ongoing Karnataka assembly elections, the others see it as a “diversionary tactic” by supporters of the BJP government at the Centre and state to hide its “failures”.

Still others feel that it had something to do with former Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visit to the university.

Those with an academic bent of mind portray the incident as an attack not just on AMU but on all institutions of higher learning in the country and their pluralist ethos. They point to a pattern in the attacks and urge one to look at “the larger picture”.

While the students have been openly questioning the local administration and the police’s impartiality, some of the teachers feel the university administration could have handled the portrait controversy “in a better way”.

The varsity administration, however, avers that it did everything “that needed to be done” on the first day itself and has been doing its best to “maintain peace on the campus so that that academics does not suffer and students’ future is not jeopardised in any way”.

The controversy started with a letter written by MP Gautam to the AMU Vice Chancellor on April 30 in which he questioned the presence of a portrait of Jinnah — Pakistan’s founder — in the AMU Students Union (AMUSU) office.

On May 2, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy is said to have tweeted: “Somebody needs to teach AMU a lesson. Who will do it?”, with a link to an article with the same heading.

On May 2, former Vice President M. Hamid Ansari was scheduled to visit the AMU at the invitation of the AMUSU that was to confer its lifetime membership — an honour also bestowed on Jinnah in 1938 and which explains the presence of his portrait there — on the former Vice President and a former Vice Chancellor of the university.

The next day, on May 3, Ansari was to deliver a lecture on pluralism in the Kennedy Hall at the varsity and in the evening attend a dinner hosted by the AMUSU. His schedule had been conveyed by the Aligarh administration in advance by Ansari’s office as per protocol.

Ansari reached the university on May 2 at the scheduled time, that is, 1 p.m., and was lodged at the AMU guest house which is near the Baab-e-Syed gate of the university.

A little later, a group of men, owing allegiance to the Hindu Yuva Vahini, an outfit founded and patronised by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, started creating a ruckus near the administrative block of the university by raising objectionable slogans. The AMU security confronted them and handed them over to the Civil Lines police.

As per the statement given by the AMU Proctor’s office to the police, the men returned barely half an hour later with more people — around 25-30 men, some of them wielding pistols, lathis and stones — and shouting expletives and objectionable slogans against the AMU, tried to barge into the university through Baab-e-Syed.

“First the persons handed over to the police were let off easily. Then the miscreants were allowed to come near Baab-e-Syed at a time when a former Vice President of India was in the university guest house which is less than 100 metres away from Baab-e-Syed. Then the students going to lodge the FIR against all this were brutally beaten up by the police and Rapid Action Force. How could there be so many lapses on the part of the administration within a few hours,” AMU Teachers’Association (AMUTA) President professor Hamid Ali asked while speaking to IANS.

Several students were badly injured in the police assault and had to be hospitalised.

Ansari cut short his two-day programme and returned to Delhi soon after the incident as the local administration expressed its inability to provide him security cover. Last year, there was an attempt to poison the drinking water tank of a madrasa in the town run by Ansari’s wife, Salma Ansari.

AMUSU Presdent Mashkoor Ahmed Usmani said that neither is the controversy about Jinnah’s portrait nor is the students’ protest.

“Jinnah’s djinn will disappear again after Karnataka elections. Our protest is not about him or his portrait because the portrait has been there long before us. We are protesting against the use of brutal force against the students who were moving peacefully. We are also demanding a judicial probe into the entire incident and quashing of FIR against the unknown students of AMU,” Usmani told IANS.

“But a section of the media is portraying our protest as if we are supporters of Jinnah. We are not. His portrait is there since 1938, along with many others who were conferred with the lifetime membership of the AMUSU,” he added.

The students are also nursing a resentment against the university administration which, they think, “failed to rise to the occasion”.

Nevertheless, Vice Chancellor Tariq Mansoor did visit on Tuesday the dharna site — where students were preparing for the final exams commencing from Saturday — to “express solidarity with the genuine demands of the students”.

“I share our students’ pain and have endorsed the demand for judicial inquiry and conveyed the sentiments of the AMU fraternity to all concerned,” Mansoor said in a statement on Tuesday.

University Public Relations Officer (PRO) Omar Peerzada said that the administration had no objection to the students’ protest as this was being done “in a peaceful, democratic way inside the campus”.

Of the students and teachers unions raising questions on the impartiality of the local administration, Peerzada said the AMUSU and AMUTA were independent bodies and were “entitled to their views”.

“On our part, we have very good relations with the local administration as well as the Union HRD Ministry and we have had their full support so far,” Peerzada told IANS.

Meanwhile, it is business as usual in the rest of the town even as armed police surrounds the campus of the historic and multi-faceted university that has a long list of distinguished alumni who have made their names in politics, armed forces, civil service, sciences and academia. Incidentally, the university was ranked No 1 in the country this year in official rankings.

By : Asim Khan

(Asim Khan can be contacted on [email protected])

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Analysis

Is your building earthquake safe? Probably not

Earthquake Resistant — Immediate Occupancy” in which the building may suffer some minor damage but there would not be any loss of life or property. “Rarely in the Indian real estate scenario buildings are designed to this category.

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Under construction buildings

Though earthquakes have wreaked havoc in many parts of the country, Indian real estate and infrastructure sector still has lots more to learn — and implement — to ensure the safety of life and property.

Although structural requirements and concerned technologies are incorporated in the building process, sector players say many modern technologies used worldwide are yet to be widely used in the country.

According to V.K. Gehlot, Director, National Centre for Seismology, “base isolation” and “dampers” are the major technologies to make buildings strong enough to resist seismic vibrations. But they are not widely used in India because of the cost involved and requirement of frequent maintenance.

Through base isolation, engineers decouple the building or the superstructure from its substructure which rests on ground, thus protecting the building during an earthquake.

Dampers on the other hand work as shock absorbers and minimise the magnitude of vibrations transmitted to the building from the ground.

The cost difference between a building with and without dampers is approximately Rs 350 per square feet, according to Major Sandeep Shah, Managing Director of Taylor Devices India.

The company is a manufacturer of earthquake-resistant equipment and he says “all developers” in the country are aware of the technology.

Shah said the company’s devices have been used in Terminal-2 of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai, lobby block building of Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, and New Udaan Bhavan at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi.

He pointed out that “at present none of the buyers are aware that by using dampers buildings can be protected and would remain habitable even after a major earthquake. That may be the reason why no one (buyer) is asking for such buildings.” But once they are made aware, Shah was sure they would want the technology in the building they are going to live in.

According to Aunirban Saha, Director (Marketing, Construction and Sustainability) of the Saha Groupe of Companies, “most of real estate projects are designed to the grade of ‘Earthquake Resistant — Collapse Prevention’ “. That means that in the event of a major earthquake, the building would not collapse and there won’t be any loss of life. However, the building itself would not be in a habitable condition and would need to be demolished and reconstructed, he explained.

The next higher standard is “Earthquake Resistant — Immediate Occupancy” in which the building may suffer some minor damage but there would not be any loss of life or property. “Rarely in the Indian real estate scenario buildings are designed to this category,” Saha added.

The highest category of structural safety is that of “Earthquake Resistant — Operational”. Under this, there would be no damage to the property or any injury caused to its occupants irrespective of the magnitude of the earthquake.

Saha said most developers go for the first category of “Collapse Prevention” as they find it more cost-effective. Most home buyers are not aware of earthquake-related safety grades, he added.

The higher structural grades, Saha said, made more sense in today’s market scenario for commercial real estate because such properties are preferred by big multinational companies.

According to Dikshu C. Kukreja, Principal Architect at C.P. Kukreja Associates, “all leading architects of India have the knowledge and skill about the technologies available to incorporate them in our designs and construction.”

Other than dampers, structural concepts such as bracing — where X-shaped braces strengthen the columns of the buildings — and couplers — where bars are joined together — help in absorbing movement during an earthquake.

Siesmologist Gehlot says that earthquake resistance should be enforced as a default, even for small structures. Today, when building a house, 95 per cent people do not bother about earthquakes. “Our usual way of construction is that we will give it to a mason and they will start constructing,” he adds.

All that needs to change, he emphasises.

By Rituraj Baruah

(Rituraj Baruah can be contacted at [email protected])

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