Teacher salaries: A prerequisite for reform

03 August 2020


Une enseignante et ses élèves dans une école de Guyaquil, en Équateur
A teacher and her students in a school in Guyaquil, Ecuador
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Une enseignante et ses élèves dans une école de Guyaquil, en Équateur
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Pour l’IIPE, augmenter les salaires est un prérequis indispensable à toute tentative de revalorisation du statut des carrières enseignantes. Explications.

All over the world, education as a profession is losing its appeal. For two years, an IIEP research team explored the issue of teacher career reforms in ten countries. One of the conclusions of this project stands out clearly: salary review is an indispensable prerequisite for any attempt to upgrade the status of teaching careers. Here is why. 

A key means of motivating and retaining teachers 

‘In all our research locations, we noticed that the teachers we interviewed were not interested in career reforms unless they included salary increases,’ says IIEP researcher Chloé Chimier. Teacher buy-in, however, is crucial to the success of reforms, which otherwise risk facing resistance or creating a sense of marginalization within the profession. This has been observed, for example, in Colombia and Mexico, following reforms in recent years. 

In countries where teachers' salaries have remained lower than those of occupations perceived as comparable in terms of status – in Ecuador and Ethiopia, for example – career reform has not had a significant impact in terms of making teaching more appealing. 

As long as  teachers  and society  perceive  that  remuneration is lower than for health workers or security forces (socially undervalued in Ecuador), any effort to reposition this profession will be futile.

Cintia Chiriboga Montalvo and Joselyn Pinto Haro, authors of the IIEP case study “Reforma de la carrera docente en Ecuador”, published in 2019.

Conversely, Thailand has managed to reverse the decline in the status of the profession. In the 2000s, the country opted to substantially increase the remuneration of its teachers, among other career path actions. According to IIEP's research, the attractiveness of salaries is one of the factors explaining the renewed motivation and high retention rate of teachers now observed in Thailand, although this has not happened without financial and organizational consequences and controversies at the national level. 

Wage structures and national issues

Different approaches are possible for upgrading teachers' salaries. ‘Countries that need to attract a large number of quality candidates may favour competitive salaries at the beginning of their careers, before flattening the curve of the salary scale,’ explain IIEP researchers Barbara Tournier and Chloé Chimier. The length of time spent at each step on the scale before moving up to the next level can also be adjusted, to re-motivate mid-career teachers or encourage them to engage in continuous training. 

While the issue of teacher bonuses is divisive, appraisal-based salary progression is another option for linking pay and performance. According to IIEP researchers, bonuses undermine teachers' intrinsic motivation in the long run; in other words, it can harm their interest in the profession and their enjoyment of teaching. 

Impact on education quality

Beyond the issues of teacher attraction and motivation, IIEP’s study points out that researchers Peter Dolton and Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez observed a clear statistical correlation between the salary level of teachers and the academic results of pupils as observed in standardized tests. 

A system of career ladders and career paths ultimately appears to be the most balanced and promising approach, according to IIEP researchers. Such systems make teachers' salary progression dependent not only on their evaluation but also on their engagement with new roles and responsibilities within the school. With opportunities for vertical mobility (such as administrative roles or management positions) or horizontal mobility (such as coaching or supporting other teachers) it is possible to move from one school to another.

Overall, the IIEP research project shows that while salary is not the only factor that needs to be considered when it comes to upgrading teaching careers, it will always need to be taken into account if reforms are to be successful.