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Teacher absence as a factor in gender inequalities in access to primary schooling in rural Pakistan

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The presence of a teacher in the classroom is central to the provision of schooling, with accumulating evidence showing that teacher absence compromises student learning (e.g., Duflo and Hanna 2005; Das et al. 2006; Das et al. 2007). Teacher absence is common in schools in low‐ and middle‐income countries. In six low‐ and middle‐income countries, 11–27 percent of primary school teachers were absent on the day of the school visit (Chaudhury et al. 2006). Only 3 percent of teachers were absent due to “sanctioned” causes such as illness or participation in election or public health campaigns. In four states in India, one‐third of head teachers were absent at the time of the primary school visit, and teaching‐related activity (supervising written work, writing on the blackboard, teaching by rote, or teaching via any other method) was found in only about one‐half of schools (PROBE Team 1999). Teachers were instead found to be minding the class, outside the classroom, talking to their peers, or engaged in other nonteaching activities. With much of the developing world making rapid progress in achieving universal primary school enrollment and gender equality in enrollment, Pakistan lags substantially behind other nations at its income level on both measures (Easterly 2003). This is due to a large extent to the exclusion of girls from education, particularly in rural areas. In Pakistan, government schools for boys and girls are separate; in addition, only women are employed as teachers in government girls’ schools and only men teach in government boys’ schools. The lack of a nearby government school for girls in rural communities is a significant barrier to girls’ access to schooling, with a third of rural communities lacking a government girls’ primary school (Lloyd et al. 2005; World Bank 2005). “Access” to schooling depends not only on the physical availability of schools by type (i.e., government girls’, government boys’, or private schools) but also on other supply‐side barriers to use, such as the presence of the teacher and whether or not the teacher is actually teaching. As we confirm in our study, teacher absence is high in government schools and particularly among women who teach in girls’ schools. Little empirical attention has been paid to the factors correlated with teacher absence among female compared to male teachers in government schools or how the higher absence rate among female teachers differentially affects opportunities to learn among girls as compared to boys attending public primary schools. Specifically, in a government school system where schools for boys and girls are separate and where only women teach girls and men teach boys, the higher absence rate among female teachers may limit access to schooling for girls more so than for boys, further exacerbating existing gender inequalities in primary school access. In this article we focus on teacher absence among female teachers in government girls’ schools, male teachers in government boys’ schools, and, by way of comparison, among teachers in private coeducational schools in rural Pakistan. First, we analyze the school and teacher‐level characteristics that are correlated with absence in teachers in each of these three types of schools. Second, we examine how teacher absence differentially affects access to schooling among girls enrolled in government girls’ schools as compared to pupils enrolled in boys’ school or in coeducational private schools. We conducted our analysis using data collected on teachers and pupils in 1997 and 2004 from primary schools serving 12 villages in rural Punjab and Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

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