Home / Education / News /  Adding contract teachers to regular ones improves outcomes: study

New Delhi: Teachers on contract, who come to class more often than tenured teachers who are sometimes paid five times more, improve learning outcomes, a new study of 200 schools in Andhra Pradesh has found.

The study that finds that learning outcomes improve through addition of contract teachers gains significance in the light of the requirement under the April 2010 right to education law to reduce the pupil to teacher ratio (from 40:1 to 30:1), while phasing out untrained teachers.

“The experimental results establish that the marginal product of contract teachers is positive and refute the conventional view that these teachers will not help improve learning," the study says.

The rise in the share of contract teachers in all public schools from 6% in 2003 to 30% in 2010 has been controversial, said the National Bureau of Economic Research’s working paper, titled Contract Teachers: Experimental Evidence from India, by researchers Karthik Muralidharan and Venkatesh Sundararaman.

Critics have asked if untrained contract teachers are as effective as formal teachers and whether more spending on education is required to retain better-trained regular teachers in rural areas.

Relying on “second-track education facilities" raises serious questions of “quality, equity and sustainability", Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said in his book India: Development and Participation, co-authored with economist Jean Dreze.

Quality has been a concern in India’s elementary education system, with about 60% of children aged 6-14 in rural India, 97% of whom are enrolled in school, unable to read at the second-grade level, though over 97% of them were enrolled in school according to the 2012 Annual Status of Education Report survey conducted by non-governmental organization Pratham.

To be sure, the current study does not compare schools relying completely on contract teachers with those having regular teachers.

The so-called randomized control study compares outcomes of 100 out of 200 rural Andhra Pradesh schools that received an additional contract teacher along with the existing quota of regular teachers, against a control group of 100 that did not.

It found that at the end of two years, students in schools with contract teachers, especially those in remote rural schools, performed better on mathematics and language (Telugu) tests compared with others.

Also, contract teachers seemed to be more committed. Absenteeism was 18% among contract teachers, compared with 27% among the regular teachers, the study noted.

To be sure, the authors themselves say the findings could be a result of other factors such as an improvement in learning due to the availability of an extra teacher, leading to a reduction in teaching of multiple grades at the same time, and a reduction in class size.

Experts said the findings need to be understood and applied carefully as the elementary education system is extremely complex.

“It is an interesting and rigorous study that adds to the existing body of knowledge, but the message I get is that teacher training systems need to be repaired if untrained teachers are doing better than regular ones," said Anuradha De, a researcher at New Delhi-based education research group Collaborative Research and Dissemination.

“However, intuitively it is very difficult to agree that teacher quality can only be measured through learning outcomes. Also, how have they separate out the effect of a lower pupil-teacher ratio? I would say the interpretation and policy implications need to be drawn carefully," De said.

Pawan Agarwal, higher education adviser at the Planning Commission, said there are trade-offs between systems that are student-centric and those that are teacher-centric. “Apart from being against the provisions of the Right to Education Act, practically speaking, contract teachers can’t be kept permanently on contract, and even if they could be, there are diminishing returns," he said.

The authors of the study note that there is a high level of teacher unionization. Experts pointed out that this prevents continuance of a two-track system with permanent and contract teachers for very long.

“You can’t move to a system with too many non-permanent contract teachers," Agarwal said. “Supplementing regular teachers with contract teachers while giving the non-permanent teachers a chance to become permanent in future given performance parameters are met seems a better option."

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