Teachers' Salaries: the Scandal that no-one mentions

This cartoon from a teaching union in Canada will resonate with teachers all over the world.

There is of course no comparison between the pay of teachers in countries like Canada, the US and the UK and those in the Global South. Our colleagues in many parts of Africa earn as little as $100 a month and sometimes not even that. In India the monthly salary for public school teachers is typically about the same. These salaries are often either not, or barely enough to sustain a family and always quite impossible to live on in anything we in the North would recognise as comfort.

 The situation is made worse by the use of contract or temporary teachers – a theme which crops up again and again in teachers’ struggles around the world as this website testifies. It is a policy actively encouraged by the World Bank for example in one of its latest reports about schooling ‘Making Schools Work’. Contract teachers typically earn only a small fraction of the already meagre salaries of civil service teachers.

 Organisations like the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education or NGOs like Pratham for example turn out endless documents and reports which see education or ‘the development of human capital’ as being central to economic health. No doubt they are more or less sincere – since capital needs minimally educated workers and willing consumers – preferably ones who do not ask too many questions about why the world is constituted the way it is – if it is to continue to expand its markets and grow. These reports even say sometimes that teachers are central to educational success. What they never mention however is teachers’ salaries.

 As we know well by now the ‘masters of the universe’ who run the big banks and corporations take in pay packets every year of such magnitude that it is beyond most people to imagine them. Marjorie Scordino, the UK boss of Pearson – the company making huge profits from testing and privatisation of education services across the world – had a pay package of $15 million last year.  Yet these same people either in person, like Bill Gates, or through their proxies, pontificate on teachers and teaching – often suggesting that teachers are not up to scratch. It would be interesting to see even the humblest World Bank Researcher, IMF representative or education services salesperson trying to exist on a teacher’s salary. 

 People will say – “well countries on the Global South are so poor that they cannot pay their teachers decent salaries.” The truth is however that the rich in the North are making vast profits from the raw materials and even the land of vast swathes of Africa,  and a tiny elite, as well as foreign corporations, is making fabulous profits in countries like India, while the majority of people live in poverty. And now that capitalism is facing a possibly terminal crisis, the outgoing head of the World Bank is threatening darkly today: “It will be better if they (developing countries) avoid piling up short-term debts that can come due in volatile periods and look to the fundamentals of future growth – infrastructure and human capital.”. This sums up the position of the representatives of capital – cut public spending (to avoid building up debts), pay back what you owe (in fact countries in the Global South owe nothing – they have more than paid back their debts through crushing rates of interest – the net flow of money is all from South to North) and carry on producing human capital (minimally educated workers) on a shoestring.

 Although the situation facing teachers in the Global South is far more extreme than that facing us in the North, we have many things in common: we face privatisation, testing, crippling accountability measures, endless denigration and salaries which comparative to other professions are very low. This is exactly the same in India for example, where you can earn vastly more in a call centre, serving people with broken computers in the North, than as a primary school teacher, serving your own people. It is also true that in the South teachers are typically the worst paid government employees – often worse paid than the agents of control like the police and the army.

 For all of these reasons, this website will always stand in solidarity with teachers in their struggle for decent salaries. As the cartoon above makes so clear – teachers do one of the most important jobs in the world.

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