For government school teachers, time is of the essence
Divya Dua
August 06, 2020

As a teacher in a primary school in Bakshi ka Talab, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, Ms Yadav (name changed as per responder’s request) performs numerous tasks inside and outside the classroom to keep the school functional. Some of these tasks go beyond teaching duties and extend to conducting the morning assembly, purchasing groceries and distributing mid-day meals (MDM), responding to data requests from the block administrative office, visiting villages to speak with families of students regularly absent from class, maintaining multiple registers for record-keeping amongst others. This is a pattern across government schools in India.

While one would assume that the time allocated to these activities would affect actual instruction hours only to a limited extent, focus group discussions with over 100 teachers from primary schools in 5 UP districts led to different conclusions.

To understand this better, let us look at the instructional hours available to a teacher in a week. With 6 school days of 6 hours each, the teacher has 36 hours to teach in a week. Of these naturally some hours will go in routine school activities such as conducting the morning assembly, attendance, a recess etc, even in best-in- class systems. However, there is still merit in understating how these 36 hours are consumed across teaching and non-teaching tasks and the actual hours left with the teacher to teach. This has been explained in Illustration 1.

Teacher time spent on non-teaching tasks: analysis over 1 week


(Image is strictly representational and not to scale; *Some annual and monthly activities are pro-rated to get weekly time spent)

As per illustration 1, a teacher spends about 23 hours per week in non-teaching activities. Co-circular activity management, morning activities (assembly and attendance) and mid-day meal distribution amount to almost 14.5 hours. Distribution of textbooks, school uniforms, school bags, iron tablets, etc., happens annually, often at different points in time across the year and on an average takes about 3 hours of a teacher’s time during the week.

It is abundantly clear from this that teachers spend almost 63% of their time in various non- teaching activities and are left with only 13 hours for classroom teaching in a week, which amounts to only 2.1 hours a day. Given the limited time left with the teacher to spend and actively engage in the classroom, it will inevitably adversely affect the learning levels of children. While the listed morning and co-curricular activities are important, the time currently being spent on these needs to be rationalised and used efficiently for teaching purposes.

Through multiple interventions, the number of hours available to a teacher for teaching can be increased.

Leveraging the humble timetable

With a pre-defined template and allocated time for subjects and activities, most schools are aware of the need to follow the timetable and make an attempt to follow it. The timetable seen in schools across Uttar Pradesh has only time and subject level clarity from a student perspective. A new timetable design can have dedicated time slots for non-teaching activities that a teacher is responsible for as well. For instance, a 15-minute window can be created in the timetable for the teacher to manage the morning assembly and lead children back to the classrooms. This intervention can bring down a teacher’s invested time on the activity from 3 hours to 1. Similarly, 30 minutes towards end of the school can be allocated to addressing data needs as requested by district/ block level officials. This would mean a teacher would only be obliged to respond to data requests in the specified half hour. This will go a long way in minimizing the need for a teacher to leave the classroom to tend to ad-hoc requests and compromise on critical hours for instruction.

Reimagining record-keeping

A common activity across categories (per Illustration 1) is managing school and student level data. This could range from MDM quality data, student attendance record, stock of items in schools (furniture, mats etc), amongst others. While important for ensuring transparency and accountability, data collection and record-keeping can take up a large part of a teacher’s time. An average school in Uttar Pradesh maintains a list of over 30 registers. Textbook distribution register, individual attendance registers for all employee categories, leave record register, community involvement register, finance register, composite grant, etc.

An analysis of these record-keeping activities revealed three things:

  1. Same data gets captured across multiple registers leading to duplicity of records and increased time and effort. For example, there are separate distribution registers for textbooks, school bags, components of the uniform (shoes, socks sweater), etc., distributed in the school. Each of this requires a fresh entry of student details (serial number, class, guardian details) every time a new item has to be distributed.
  2. Some recorded data is neither relevant from a review/ inspection perspective in the short term nor of critical long-term value. For example, schools maintain student MDM record data that requires students to sign against their name post the meal. With MDM quality related information captured in a separate register and also through an IVR calling system, student level data is never requested for review.
  3. Relevant data is recorded in cumbersome formats increasing time invested by the teacher. For example, to manage school finances, teachers maintain composite grant and cash flow registers amongst others. Both these registers have formats that are difficult to follow and maintain, specifically from an inspection perspective.

A natural solution that one will arrive at after looking at the above examples, will be digital maintenance of records. While that is possible, given the digital maturity of the system, complete online maintenance is still far out. Therefore, after careful consideration, registers can either be revoked, merged with another register or issued a new centralised format. This can lead to a compact list with under 15 registers that schools can maintain. This reform can reduce the time spent on record-keeping across categories by almost half.

Other Interventions

Other interventions that can increase instructional hours for the teacher beyond the above-listed can also include adding planned holidays for difficult weather periods within the school calendar to limit last minute declarations by districts and extended periods of absence. To manage for extra days here, the summer vacation could be cut down by a few days to accommodate for this winter vacation. Mandating that school infrastructure upkeep work only be conducted post-school hours, no other administrative activities such as survey duty to be assigned to the teacher during school hours etc.

All these interventions eventually can significantly free up the teacher’s bandwidth to spend the maximum possible time inside the classroom, engaging children in learning.