Journal Issue: Excellence in the Classroom Volume 17 Number 1 Spring 2007
Teacher Labor Markets
The supply of teachers in developing countries, as in developed countries, depends on working conditions and teacher salaries, as well as on how salaries and entry requirements in the teacher labor market compare with other labor markets. Many teachers work in schools that lack adequate teaching materials or basic infrastructure. Pupilteacher ratios, as shown in table 1, can be large: an average of 43:1, for example, in sub-Saharan Africa, though in some countries the ratio is even larger. Many teachers in developing countries cite lack of resources, such as adequate facilities, textbooks, and teaching materials, as a primary obstacle to effective teaching.6 Location also affects teacher supply. In most developing countries, unlike in the United States, working conditions tend to be better in urban schools and teachers prefer to work there.
Large cities in the United States have only recently begun using housing subsidies to recruit teachers to difficult-to-staff urban schools, but developing countries have long made use of housing incentives, especially for teachers in rural schools. In many poor countries, however, these subsidies have not been effective, in part because most teachers are women and most single women choose not to live alone or to transfer to rural areas for safety-related reasons.7
Recent research in Pakistan, however, suggests that placing secondary schools in rural areas—rather than the urban areas where they are now concentrated—may attract some teachers, as many female secondary graduates who aspire to teach higher grades can then teach in their native villages instead of moving to the cities.8 The strategy of recruiting local teachers and assigning them to schools close to home may also be effective in the United States, where, as researchers have shown, teacher labor markets are mostly local.9
Turning to compensation, in Latin America, at least, teachers do not appear to be severely underpaid compared with similar workers in other occupations.10 Lucrecia SantibÃ¡Ã±ez examined urban professional salaries in Mexico during the late 1990s.11 Controlling for education, experience, and hours worked, she estimated that the hourly wage premium in 1998 was 13 percent for male secondary teachers and 30 percent for female teachers. She also analyzed salary differences among states in Mexico and found that, on average, teachers in more developed northern states earned relatively less compared with other professions than did teachers in the rest of the country.
In Chile, teachers’ wages were higher, on average, than those of nonagricultural employees, but much of this difference could be attributed to the teachers’ higher levels of schooling. One study demonstrated that although entry-level wages for teachers are low, teachers are compensated as well as other professionals who work in similar locations or have similar levels of education and experience.12 And in Bolivia, a study found that the concentration of teachers in the public sector and the influence of union-negotiated contracts on teacher wages for the entire country reduced geographic variation in teacher salaries, which meant that teachers in rural areas, in particular, were better compensated than other professional workers in similar locations. In addition, union influence set teachers’ wages in a way that minimized the salary differences by gender, ethnicity, and marital status that are apparent for some private sector professionals subject to market wages.13
In many developing countries, teacher salaries make up a large share of total public education spending—as much as 95 percent of total education costs. Governments in countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, which have recently expanded access to primary schools, cite high spending on teacher salaries as the biggest constraint on improving the supply and quality of teacher recruits. Education advocates have suggested a variety of strategies to minimize this constraint, such as de-linking teacher salaries from civil service salaries or changing the pace at which teachers progress along the salary scale. But research has centered primarily on subsidies and incentives, such as merit-based pay and supplementary allowances (housing, transport), as discussed below.