Teacher behaviour and Education policy play major part in very poor standards at Karsha Government H

By Tom Armond Leh, Feb 11, 2014
Leh :
This article is based on my experience as a volunteer English teacher at Karsha Government High School, Zanskar, in summer 2010 and 2012. I also discuss observations of volunteers in 2011-13. The school in question has around 80 students studying in KG – Class X.

Karsha Government High School, Zanskar (KGHS), is currently failing to provide an acceptable standard of education to its students. The 0% pass rate for the Class X exam in the last session is the most striking proof of this. A significant cause of this worrying statistic is a toxic mix of damaging Department of Education policy and poor attendance by both teachers and the headmaster.

Teacher behaviour

Teachers are absent far too frequently. Equally damagingly, even on days where teachers are present in the morning, they often leave early or do not teach all lessons that they are supposed to, instead preferring to drink tea or chat with colleagues. In 2012, one teacher at KGHS was absent for over two weeks, taking a relative for admission and buying furniture for his hotel. In summer 2013, volunteers reported that over a two week period, only two of around 10 teachers attended regularly. The other eight teachers attended just once or twice a week, and then often not for the whole day.

Given how short the school year is, due to extreme cold forcing closure in winter, this high level of absenteeism severely harms the children's education. Teachers are authorised to take around 20 days of leave per academic year. This is far too many, but it is likely that some teachers far exceed this generous allowance (especially if one includes in the 20 day allowance days where teachers have left early / not taught). Attendance records are of course unreliable – in 2010 I observed what looked like their falsification (or at least backdating), in preparation for school inspection.

The situation is unfair to students and upsetting for them. An ex-student told me: “teacher attendance is less than students. I feel angry because sometimes they came to school but didn’t come to classes. We the students did not get proper education or knowledge of the basics.” No doubt many teachers feel undervalued and are inadequately supported, but it appears that many lack professionalism and a sense of decency. Despite being responsible for the education of around 80 children – and thus having a direct impact on the future economic situation of these children – they shirk their duties. All this, while pocketing a salary that most locals would be envious of. Despite being respected by the community and students, the teachers fail to respect the children.


It was reported in January 2013 that all Class X students at KGHS had failed the 2012 exam  (Kargil district had an average pass rate of 47.30%). The pass rate in preceding years has been woefully low. Ultimately, a school has to be judged on the results it achieves, and on this basis, KGHS is failing with flying colours.

Of course, it would be unfair to solely blame the teachers for this state of affairs. No doubt the children themselves also need to improve their commitment to studies. No doubt parents need to do more than simply send their children to school – taking an active interest in their children’s education would raise standards. But with teacher absence rate so high, it is little surprise that students perform so poorly in exams. For, in addition to not receiving the necessary instruction in Class X, the foundations of subjects have not been properly laid in preceding years. Many older children have still not mastered their timetables, for instance.

Disastrous Department of Education policy

Poor teacher attendance is aggravated by poor human resource management. For instance, during term time, teachers may be put on official duty for several weeks, to administer exams or to collect census results. A teacher claimed that in summer 2013, four KGHS teachers were on official duty at the same time. Even if substitute teachers are sometimes provided, this is still deeply unsatisfactory, because of the disruption to the students’ education. A 2010 query during Question Hour reported that there were around 3,000 educated unemployed youths in Leh district. When the need for extra manpower arises, therefore, others could be employed on fixed-term contracts. The current policy of “borrowing teachers” is purely a money-saving measure.

Bizarrely, dates for the summer vacation are not published much in advance of the holiday being declared. If teachers have business to attend to outside Zanskar, it is impossible for them to plan when to undertake this business. Holidays should be fixed at the beginning of the academic year for the entire year.

A headmaster plays a crucial role in the running of any school, yet all too often he himself is absent. Over a two week period in summer 2013, the headmaster attended only once. Even if some absences are unauthorised, the headmaster’s role does also include administrative duties in Padum. On days that the headmaster is absent, teachers are more likely not to attend, to leave early, or not to teach during all of their timetabled lessons.

In all, the education system suffers from a total lack of accountability. Firstly, the Chief Education Officer (CEO) is based over 200km away in Kargil, so cannot effectively monitor what is going on in schools in Zanskar. Secondly, teachers and the headmaster have no fear of sanctions or dismissal. Employees of a private company who fail to attend work or to achieve results can expect to be disciplined and ultimately dismissed. At worst, teachers are transferred.

Finally, there are too many small schools in Zanskar that have very few pupils enrolled. Even the relatively large KGHS has several classes with just three to five pupils. More schools mean less funding is available per school for equipment. It also means that expenditure on salaries and on building maintenance is unnecessarily high. A smaller number of larger schools could be better equipped, staffed and monitored.

The current unplanned approach breeds wastage. It’s hard not to laugh at the fact that KGHS employs a laboratory assistant, who, due to a lack of chemicals, usually ends up helping the school cook. KGHS was sent around five computers from Kargil, but the computers arrived without Microsoft Office installed. Due to few teachers having computer knowledge and the electricity supply is unreliable, most students had never used the computers many months after delivery.

Letter to CEO and reply

I wrote to the CEO Kargil in November 2013 to raise my concerns. The response I received from him was unsatisfactory. He explained that on his recent visit to Zanskar with the Chief Executive Councillor “this office has not been [sic] received any complaint from the villagers of Karsha”. The fact that no complaints were raised directly does not surprise me. Parents probably feel scared to complain and could hardly be described as “empowered”, due to a lack of access to information and ignorance of their rights.

To claim that parents are all totally satisfied ignores the fact that many parents in Zanskar prefer their children to attend NGO-sponsored private schools in Zanskar. Other parents send their children to schools outside of Zanskar; sometimes outside J&K. Parents would not send their children to a school to which it took several days to travel to, if their child could receive a good education from the school located near to their home.

To deny that there is any problem with teacher attendance amounts to the CEO shutting his eyes to a recognised problem. After all, reports have been written about the problem of teacher attendance in India. One only has to briefly survey the results of a Google search for “teacher attendance India” to see that the national rate of teacher absenteeism is estimated at 25%.

Having denied that there were any problems in government schools, the CEO then explained that volunteers required permission from the CEO to volunteer at KGHS. He is now investigating who made the “mistake” of giving permission in the first place. Reading between the not so subtle lines, this probably means volunteers will no longer be welcome at government schools in Zanskar.


A solution to teacher absenteeism could include mandatory photographs of all teachers and the headmaster at the start and end of each day (with electronic time/date stamp). By itself, this wouldn’t necessarily solve the problems of teachers attending but not teaching. To resolve that issue, the role of the headmaster must be changed: his administrative duties must be removed, so that he can be present at the school every day (he should be given teaching duties so he is sufficiently occupied).

Equipping the headmaster with the ability to discipline staff (including initiating dismissals) and to apply salary deductions based on their attendance, would be a step in the right direction. In addition, in order to improve teacher motivation, good attendance and good exam results could be rewarded/recognised.

Finally, it can only be hoped that parents will find their voice and start complaining.

Tom Armond study Law at the University of Cambridge, UK. He welcomes comments, criticisms and calls for clarification on the content of the article and can be contacted at tomarmond1@ gmail.com