The much-trumpeted Rs. 18 per person cost of Indian Census is far greater in real terms than the monetary allocation to the Registrar General of India. It includes unpaid services of over a million teachers and even more, lost educational opportunities for millions of children.
In February 2011 we were pretesting the questionnaires in Uttar Pradesh, about 40 KM outside of Lucknow, and none of the schools we visited had more than one teacher in attendance. The five schools that we visited had 3-5 teachers assigned to each but all of them were ostensibly carrying out the Census. Their Census areas were far from the school and there was no way of knowing whether they were really busy with Census duties or whether this provided the perfect excuse for missing school.
IHDS-I found about 14% teachers absent from school on the day our interviewers visited. Work by Karthik Muralidharan and others has found an even higher rate of absenteeism. Teacher absence in government schools is considered to be one of the major factors pushing parents to private schools. However, after observing Census I have begun to wonder how many official duties keep teachers out of classrooms. By law, teacher services are only available for election related work and Census. But these duties are onerous enough. Apparently this also includes maintenance of voter list, which involves household census.
Principals seem to have a host of administrative duties including maintenance of attendance registers and managing mid-day meal supplies. I think we need to figure out a way of distinguishing between teachers who have gone AWOL and those who are pressed into service.!