We all keep the memory of a special teacher. One who helped us look at mathematics in a different way or who told us fabulous stories of heroes and battles. That teacher who taught us a lesson we wouldn’t forget. Every time I talk about this subject with a colleague or friend it is common to hear a comment like “what a shame, we no longer have teachers like that.” Against which I always try to argue that there are still wonderful teachers, masters of their craft and committed to their mission. My job allows me to see them occasionally. Unfortunately, there are not as many as we wish, and it is not difficult to understand why: You have to be a kind of modern hero to embrace the teaching profession and exercise it in a committed way. This is when we wonder about the working conditions of teachers. This is not a new issue but it seems to require further debate. Let’s take a new look.
The report of Fundacion Compartir uses data from the Great Integrated Household Survey (In Spanish: GEIH) of 2011 showing that monthly teacher salaries are below those of other comparable professional occupations. Well, which are these comparable professional occupations? How much each of them earns? And, how much has this changed in recent years? We looked at the same data source, the GEIH, and its antecedent, the Continuous Household Survey (In Spanish: ECH). This allowed us to extend the analysis as far back as 2001. Also, we took the opportunity to update the results until 2014. Here, a chart that speaks a more than thousand words.
First, a technical digression is in order. It is worth noting that here we only measure the monthly monetary earnings from the main occupation. We do not take into account non-monetary earnings or extraordinary bonuses, as the study of the Fundacion Compartir does. The results change very little when we take this into account. See this other study for different measurements of earnings per hour, month and year to teachers and other professionals with comparable features.
Now, let’s go to the central message. Teachers are among the lowest-paid professionals in Colombia. It has been this way for several years and it seems this won’t change in the medium term. Then we can ask: Under these conditions, who are those who choose to study to become a teacher? Baron and Bonilla already told us in 2011 that the best students of the SABER 11 tests do not graduate from education programs (Bachelors of Arts degrees). This article provides some newer material on the same.
Nevertheless, with a dose of optimism, one might ask: Do the skills of students pursuing degrees in teaching improve during college? The answer, discussed in detail in this article I wrote with my colleague Felipe Balcazar, is no. On the contrary, their math and reading skills deteriorate in relative terms. We’re not even close to taking the best professionals to our children’s classrooms. The next figure illustrates the situation.
Improving education systems requires faculty improvement. It is necessary to upgrade the conditions of current teachers, and thus, encourage talented young people to consider becoming teachers in the future. To attract themit is necessary to offer a decent, appealing, and meritocratic teaching career. As we said in this other entry, a comprehensive solution is complex and requires action on many fronts and in different time horizons. However, one thing is clear: it is unlikely that anything will change in the teaching profession if we keep maintaining the status quo and low wages without recognized meritocracy.
This article is for everyone to think about what we could do to have more good teachers for our students. These are scarce and those who remain, as I said, are a kind of modern heroes: They work against all odds and because of true vocation. Incentives are practically nonexistent.
And you? How do you think we can change the teaching profession?
*This post was originally published in the Empty chair blog. Post available only Spanish.