Is weak state capacity a concern in the context of Indian school education? - Macro level evidence : Ensuring a Learning India S4 E.003

The previous post discussed the relation between state capacity and learning outcomes. It suggested that weak state capacity can possibly affect learning outcomes. This is across country evidence but is that a problem in Indian context? If yes, how is it affecting outcomes in India? This post explores these questions. It first presents qualitative evidence, then moves on to quantitative evidence on the inefficiencies, then discusses the mechanism through which weak state capacity operates in school and finally presents a framework to think of the incentive systems between stakeholders in the education system.

If state capacity is loosely defined as the capacity of the state to implement policies, then its weakness is manifested in several forms. Some of these manifestations are apparent while some aren’t.

One of the manifestations of weak state capacity is the effort of teachers. The Public Report on Education (PROBE) 2006 observes “Close to half the schools had no teaching activity at the time of the team’s unannounced visit. Some teachers were absent, others were found to be sipping tea, knitting, or whiling away time simply chatting. Some teachers were absent, others were found to be sipping tea, knitting, or whiling away time simply chatting.” This is a classic case of weak monitoring, which reflects weak state capacity.

The second evidence is regarding the teacher absenteeism. Kremer et al estimate that “twenty-five percent of teachers were absent from school, and only about half were teaching, during unannounced visits to a nationally representative sample of government primary schools in India”. Muralidharan et alestimate that the fiscal cost of teacher absence in India is around $1.5 billion per year”.

The third evidence is regarding the expenditure management system and process efficiencies. PAISA study captures this evidence. “the expenditure management system is riddled with process-related bottlenecks. In all the years that we have tracked money, no state in the PAISA national survey was able to ensure that schools receive their grants at the start of the school year. We found year after year that on average, just about half of India’s schools had received this money by November, which is half way through the school year. This had a knock on effect on school level expenditures as headmasters rushed to spend money, resulting in a disconnect between school needs and actual spending. Moreover, this creates serious disincentives for community participation. After all, why plan if there is no money to spend! Our detailed district studies suggest that these delays in getting money to schools are a result of process inefficiencies that run through the entire expenditure chain from the Government of India to district governments.

The fourth set of evidence is regarding the effect of interventions in the public school set up. This consists of set of evaluations run on Pratham’s Read India programme. Please find the summary here. These set of evaluations were implemented on different specifications of Read India programme. For example, one intervention had teacher training + monitoring and support + supplementary learning materials for children + village volunteers who would teach lagging students after the school. The second intervention had teacher training + monitoring and support + supplementary materials for children. This didn’t include village volunteers. These were then compared with schools which didn’t receive anything, business as usual.

The first intervention showed significant improvement in learning outcomes, while the second showed little or no impact. The only difference between these two interventions is the aspect of village volunteers who would teach lagging students after school hours.

May be this then means that village volunteers are motivated and can teach better but regular teachers can’t. But then, another intervention was conducted where a summer camp was organized and regular teachers were trained in Pratham’s methodology (the same training given to volunteers) to teach in these summer camps. The results of this intervention showed significant improvements in learning outcomes which persisted even 2 years after the programme. This means that even regular teachers can be effective, but when teaching outside the regular school environment.

The summary document outlines the interpretation of these results. Excerpt from the summary document below.

·         “Pratham's CAMaL methodology can have a significant impact on learning levels with minimal resources. This was apparent in the large impacts of the intervention involving volunteers. Teachers can also have impacts on learning, as the summer camps demonstrated. This is especially the case if learning goals are clearly defined and understood by teachers, if children are grouped accordingly and if they are continuously present. Moving away from the usual age-grade system and providing targeted help to specific groups of children who are lagging behind can be effective in dealing with the huge learning deficits in the Indian education system.

·         But this rarely happens during the regular school year. There are a broad set of factors which in aggregate result in low levels of learning. These include: low teacher attendance and even lower child attendance (both documented in the study); a curriculum that is unrelated to the initial learning levels of children but teachers are compelled to follow; and very diverse learning needs in the same 4 classroom because children at different levels of learning are together in one grade. All of these factors combine to make the teaching-learning system in these states misaligned with the actual level and learning needs of children.”

An intervention which is successful outside the school system when administered by volunteers fails to show results when implemented in a regular school year. Teachers can be cited as the reason but the same teachers are being effective when teaching outside the school system. This illustrates the complexities, constraints and incentive mechanisms embedded in the system in which teachers are working, a clear case of an issue of state capacity.

The fourth evidence discussed the effect of an intervention when implemented within the regular system and outside the system. The fifth evidence is about an intervention implemented in the regular system but under different rules. This intervention is about providing diagnostic information to teachers about children’s performance. The idea is that if teachers precisely know the status of learning of children, then they may be able to cater to children’s needs better. In this study conducted in Andhra Pradesh, researchers provided this low stake diagnostic information to teachers in a group of schools, and teachers in second group of schools didn’t receive any such feedback. The comparison of results of students showed that students in ‘feedback’ schools did no better than students in ‘no-feedback’ schools. But, could this have been because the diagnostic information wasn’t appropriate? There was another group of schools where teachers were provided ‘feedback’ along with performance (as measured by student learning) linked pay. Students in these ‘incentive’ schools performed significantly better. While, this needn’t mean that the diagnostic information alone caused the effect, it suggests that this information was appropriate and useful and was put into proper use by teachers in incentive schools. This evidence illustrates the untapped potential in teachers which isn’t being put to use due to the incentive mechanisms in the system.

In summary, the weak state capacity is manifested in visible forms of teacher absenteeism and lack of teacher efforts in some cases. The expenditure management and other processes are riddled with inefficiencies. Successful programmes are being productive outside the regular schooling system when implemented by the same regular teachers but aren’t being productive when they are implemented by the same teachers within in the regular school system. Within the regular school system, changing incentives is leading to outcomes, as compared to status quo. All of these illustrate that weak state capacity is a critical constraint in the Indian public school education system.

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