If Punjab in north India goes ahead with a bold plan, it will do something no Indian state has ever done before - hand over complete responsibility for primary education to the private sector. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has been provoked into drastic action by a recent survey showing that 30 per cent of 10 year olds in state schools are unable to read or write. The reason for their ignorance is that few teachers turn up to teach. A World Bank report, Resuming Punjab's Prosperity, reveals that 36 per cent of teachers are absent on any given day. They take home their salary but prefer to earn extra money giving private tuition. Teacher absenteeism is the bane of Indian education. The national figure for absent teachers is 25 per cent. The World Bank report also said that when teachers in Punjab turned up for work, only half were found teaching. The cause of teacher absenteeism is not poor pay but greed. Teachers in Punjab earn between US$220 and US$330 a month, a good salary by Indian standards. 'It doesn't seem to satisfy them. It's common for teachers in rural areas to hire a fresh graduate for $44 a month to take their place in school while they go and run coaching classes in town,' said a Punjab education official. Educational standards in state schools are so inferior that only the very poor send their children to them. Unable to drag teachers back into the classroom, Mr Singh has decided to bring in private entrepreneurs. The $15 spent by the state on every child's schooling every month will be handed over to private enterprise instead. If the plan goes ahead, the state will initially hand over 2,000 primary schools to private bodies. Eventually, all 19,000 will be run either by companies or established private schools. On Monday, Unicef released a report showing that India accounts for 26.8 million of the 115 million children globally who are not going to primary school - a little over 23 per cent. Forty per cent of pupils drop out in the first year.