Teachers Day and Harvard South Asia Initiative

Education Policy-making

October 5th. It’s Teachers Day in Pakistan, and I thought a post about universal education in South Asia would be relevant for the occasion. On Monday I had the opportunity to attend a seminar at Harvard on universal education in South Asia (Social Enterprise Seminar Series”Achieving Universal Quality Education in India: Challenges and Opportunities”).

The seminar focused on education policy-making, and Education for All in India’s Andhra Pradesh. Although the Pakistan education model is very different, there are still some important things to be learned.

Harvard Kennedy School’s Public Policy Professor Asim Khwaja hosted Karthik Muralidharan from UC San Diego’s Department of Economics. Professor Muralidharan presented a compressed version of years of research. His presentation focused on the impact of performance-pay for teachers, the impact of contract teachers, and the impact of cash grants to schools on student learning outcomes in India via large-scale randomized evaluations (View his research papers and evaluations in more detail here: http://www.povertyactionlab.org/muralidharan ).

Professor Muralidharan highlighted “Teacher Accountability” as a central issue, with an absence of teacher satisfaction and a lack of absorptive capacity. In the Andhra Pradesh model, these were the broad objectives of AP RESt (Andhra Pradesh Randomized Evaluated Study) [http://siteresources.worldbank.org/SOUTHASIAEXT/Resources/223546-1192413140459/4281804-1215548823865/AndhraPradesh.pdf] :

Background statistics to the AP RESt

Below are my notes from the seminar. As the studies are in-depth, I advise you to refer to Poverty Action Lab to get a detailed understanding of Professor Muralidharan’s work (http://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/extra-contract-teachers-andhra-pradesh-india ).

Screenshot from Poverty Action Lab http://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/extra-contract-teachers-andhra-pradesh-india

Broad objectives: 

  1. Move the focus of education policy from outlays to outcomes
  2. Focus systematically on teacher motivation and effects
  3. Improve empirical orientation
Context: 
  • Typical rural school is quite small
  • All regular teachers are civil-service employees
  • Teacher unions are strong and disciplinary action for non-performance is rare
Lessons:
  • Training is very necessary. Often teachers don’t know how to help students.
  • Fiscal policy changes to education are important (e.g. cash grants to students). However, monitoring  is essential.
  • Contract teachers have greater potential to be effective. It’s important to have a contract teacher career ladder based on continuous performance. Contract teachers, on average had less training and education. They were also paid less. They were hired in a decentralized process, and were often from the local elite. The teacher input was not being substituted. However, contract teachers had greater intrinsic motivation as they were more connected to the community. As they live much closer to the schools, it is convenient for them. In an analysis of the pay scales of teachers in rural India, rural school private teachers were paid 1/5th the amount government civil servant school teachers were getting.
  • Teacher salaries are the largest component of education spending in India: poor predictor of outcomes.
  • Monitoring and measuring classroom activity six times a year led to zero change in learning. Teachers demonstrated well, but these checks did not have any positive effect on student learning.
  • Analyzing the effects of average school annual grant allocation patterns, nearly half the grant allocation. Student learning improved but not in the second. Corruption, diminishing returns . “It was Public Finance 101. Household spending on education decreased as the grant was anticipated, because of precedent set by previous year.
  • Performance pay: Motivation to teach isn’t affected by job satisfaction. In fact, teachers with the highest job satisfaction were most absent. A change of lens for teachers was essential. Instead of teachers focusing on a U-shaped curve of learning, with focus on the class average, teachers were told that every child matters. “You can never do worse than having a kid drop out”, they were told.
Four main policy implications:
  1. Focus on learning outcomes
  2. Additional instrumental resources in early schooling years and to disadvantaged children in particular
  3. Contract teachers could be an option for achieving the above. High School graduate teachers were particularly effective, empowering educated women who were not working are an important untapped human resource with great potential (Mother literacy comes into play). It’s important to provide them credit for their performance and service. “It’s a triple win if you can get the politics right”, Muralidharan said.
  4. Teacher performance measurement and management, the highest potential lever at the policy makers disposal.
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3 thoughts on “Teachers Day and Harvard South Asia Initiative

  1. I didn’t even those there was such a thing as Teacher’s Day here in Pak :S
    But this sounds cool. You know it actually makes sense… performance-pay would probably motivate more teachers to actually put in effort, and contract employment would help bring in fresh talent, with the option of retaining someone who was good at their job while letting the bad eggs go…

    and omg you got to go to Harvard. Lucky!

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