Teacher absenteeism

The elephant in the classroom!

Meet Agnes (not real name), a primary teacher in rural Eastern Uganda. Agnes has been teaching for 13 years. She works in very difficult conditions – dilapidated classrooms with no electricity, inadequate teaching materials and textbooks, large classes, mixed-age learners, and can only afford poor living conditions also with no electricity and 2km from the school. She is a qualified teacher, and attends in-service teacher training a few times a year. “The government expects us to use new methods, but they don’t support us or appreciate us, just look at our poor salary, I can barely feed my children on the salary”. She explained that she and many of her colleagues feel demoralised, with some of them regularly absent from school.

Agnes’ story is reflective of millions of other teachers throughout emerging economies and the developing world. It highlights, in particular, what the Power Teacher Africa founder terms “the elephant in the classrooms” that interventions have been unable to address – ‘teacher absenteeism’. Numerous studies highlight finding high rates of absenteeism, sometimes up to 80% teachers absent on any given day.

A lot of official teaching time is lost

Graph - a lot of teaching time is lost
Percentage of time teacher is scheduled to teach versus present in the classroom versus teaching

Sources: WDR 2018 team, using data from Abadzi (2009): Brazil (Pernambuco state), Ghana, Morocco, and Tunisia; Benveniste, Marshall, and Araujo (2008): Cambodia; Benveniste, Marshall, and Santibañez (2007): Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Millot and Lane (2002): Arab Republic of Egypt, Lebanon, and Republic of Yemen; World Bank (2016a): Madagascar; World Bank (2016b): Zambia; World Bank’s Service Delivery Indicators, 2012–13 (http://www.worldbank .org/sdi): Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda. Data at http://bit.do/WDR2018-Fig_3-10.

Note: For Brazil, Cambodia, Ghana, Lao PDR, Senegal, Tanzania, and Tunisia, data include public schools. For all other countries, data include both public and private schools.

Other significant issues reported by head teachers are skipping classes, which is frequent in about 30% of schools, and late arrival at work, a regular occurrence in about 45 percent of schools. With teacher pay comprising 80% or more of many countries’ recurrent budgets, this is leading to huge inefficiency and wastage. Also, for those who attend school, a lot of official teaching time is lost. A 2017 study (Bold et al) in Sub-Saharan African countries found that between 15 – 45% teachers absent from school and 23% – 57% absent from class.

Clearly all interventions working with teachers must start with addressing teacher absenteeism – if teachers are not in school all other interventions are a waste of time and resources. Power Teachers Africa will do this.