Education experts lament downward trends for teachers | Globalization | DW | 27.06.2013
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Education experts lament downward trends for teachers

A new education report by the OECD details "worrying trends" in the teaching profession. Teachers are earning less and working more - at the cost of their country's future.

"Teachers in Ghana often teach classes of 50 students, they do not earn a good salary and their job is not secure, either," says Ama Ntiedu. But in Africa, teachers are more widely respected, the 25-year-old student teacher, whose father is Ghanaian, adds. In fact, the teaching profession is held in high esteem in many countries around the world. Even if teachers earn less than peers with a comparable education, the profession is an attractive choice for young people.

"We see that in many countries, the reputation of a profession only partly depends on the salary," says Andreas Schleicher. Just look at Finland, the education expert at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), points out. "Teachers there earn an average salary, but they are highly respected because it is a profession that offers good career opportunities."

The situation is similar in Britain and Eastern Europe, Schleicher says - in contrast to Germany, where teachers are very well paid but not held in high esteem.

"That shows you can't buy a reputation with money," Schleicher says. "On the other hand, if it allows you to win the best people for the teaching profession, money is an important factor."

Schleicher is one of the experts responsible for the OECD's most recent education report, released on Tuesday (25.06.2013) at its Paris headquarters. The report says that the average teacher salary in OECD member states is 11 to 20 percent lower than that of an academic of the same age who has a university degree.

The situation is similar in developing and emerging nations, according to the Education International (EI) teachers' union. "In many very poor countries, teachers might be paid above-average incomes," says EI research coordinator Gunters Satlaks, adding that incomes are often "impossibly low" in the first place.

If you disregard average salaries and instead look at salaries for people with similar qualifications, the trend would be a similar one, Satlaks says.

A Congolese teacher speaks to pupils in a classroom (Photo: Laudes Martial Mbon)

Whether teachers are respected, doesn't always have to do with the level of their salary

The OECD survey states that teachers' salaries in OECD member countries dropped between 2009 and 2011 for the first time in 10 years. While their income only decreased by an average two percent, some countries suffered significant cuts in the wake of the global economic and financial crisis. Greece slashed teachers' salaries by 17 percent in addition to levying a special solidarity tax. Teachers in Hungary, Ireland and Spain also faced above-average salary cuts.

Adequate pay is not everything

Among non-OECD member states, teachers' salaries have been on the decline for much longer.

"The trend we observe in the OECD report is unfortunately more explicit worldwide. The situation concerning teachers' salaries is really very grave in Sub-Saharan African countries, many Southeast Asian countries and Latin America as well," Satlaks says, adding the global economic crisis was in fact not as noticeable in those countries as in Europe and North America.

Satlaks says some governments used the economic crisis as a pretext for salary cuts, but in effect, the decline has been a trend for much longer. It is not all about pay, either, he warns - decent working conditions and class sizes are as important: "It doesn't help if you pay a teacher a high wage but the teacher is not qualified enough, does not have access to professional development and has to work with classes with 100 or even 200 students."

Those are some of the reasons interest in the teaching profession is dwindling in some developing and emerging countries, Satlaks says.

The OECD report shows worrying trends for the future: "The trend is teachers are paid less, the teaching profession is aging, and the teachers are requested to work more," Satlaks points out.

Demographic change is a problem

Fifty percent of teachers in Germany, Italy and Sweden are already older than 50 years of age, the OECD's Schleicher says, warning that demographic change is a serious problem.

"That is a distorted age structure," Schleicher concludes.

Primary school childen sitting at desks in Jena, Germany

Classes will be smaller as demographic change sets in

And change is not in sight. "The number of students is dwindling, so you really need fewer teachers - despite the warped age structure," he says. As a result, when the older teachers retire in a few years, schools may face a lack in teachers.

That is already a problem in many countries, Schleicher points out, adding it is important to make sure the teaching profession is attractive to young academics.

"If you want to lure the strongest candidates for the teaching profession, you have to pay them accordingly," Schleicher says. "If you scrimp on education, you ruin your own future. Today's education expenses are tomorow's economic returns."

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