Teacher absenteeism is NOT the problem

You’ll often hear policy-makers, commentators and journalists point to absent teachers as one of the reasons for the poor quality of public education in Nepal.

Certainly there are teachers who simply never attend school or disappear for months at a time, but this misses the real problem.

It is not that teachers are bunking, it is that the government allows teachers to be absent. Permanent government teachers in Nepal can take 12 days casual leave a year, and 12 days sick leave (for which you do not need to be sick).

Assuming teachers only take the casual leave, in a typical secondary schools, with perhaps 20 teachers, that means teachers may be absent for a total of 240 days a year!

Now in most government schools, if a teacher is absent, students in their classes are simply told they have a leisure period and they sit around do… not much. Assuming each teacher teaches 6 lessons a day, that means 1440 lessons run without a teacher each year.

The real figure is probably much higher, because there are lots of other reasons a teacher might be absent, which are not even counted as official leave, for example they have to go for training for a week, or they have to attend meetings etc.

In our schools we have insisted there must be a teacher present in every lesson. We call it a substitute teacher policy – each teacher agrees to do one extra lesson a week to fill in for an absent teacher.

Here’s an example from Balkumari school, which shows that in the past 4 months, our team and teachers have taught 234 substitute lessons. On the one hand this proves just how damaging teacher leave is, and on the other hand it shows how much extra learning students are getting due to our substitute teacher policy.