In an effort to get to the root of the problem, the World Bank, in collaboration with Harvard University, sent a group of observers unannounced to 3,700 public and private schools in India on three separate occasions. They found that 25 per cent of teachers were absent on any given day. Of the teachers present, only 45 per cent were actually teaching when the observers arrived. The rest were drinking tea, or talking to other teachers, or reading the newspaper. Is this because the teachers are underpaid? A World Bank study using recent National Sample Survey data concluded that teachers are paid about 80 per cent more than people in the private sector (not just teachers) with the same qualifications.

Empowering parents through VECs will also not work in places where the parents are not in a position to take the erring teachers to task. In the 2007 budget, the allocation for mid-day meals under SSA has been increased from Rs 17,133 crore to Rs 23,142 crore. It may rope in a few more students but will they learn anything worthwhile ? Throwing money at a problem and hoping that it will go away is not the way to go about in sharing the spoils of growth.
According to the 2001 census, 94 per cent of all villages have a primary school within one kilometre. This in itself seems quite an achievement as one kilometre is not difficult to trudge, even for a six-year-old. There is no denying that the crucial first step has been taken. However, to find out more about how these schools are doing and what kind of education is being imparted in these schools, the census is inadequate. But help is at hand, thanks to a truly remarkable educational NGO, Pratham. In its first annual survey of education report, carried out in 2005, it ascertained that 93.4 per cent of the children in the appropriate age group are enrolled in a school. It looks and sounds impressive until you work out that this translates to more than 10 million children being out of school.
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