An education for sale

When an education is so expensive, why are teachers paid so little, asks Mishal Kanoo
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By Mishal Kanoo
Thu 05 May 2011 10:36 AM

One of the critical factors of any human being’s success
is the accessibility to an excellent education. This is not just from a
university’s prospective but starting from kindergarten onwards. It is the
building block by which we set the standard for our children. By starting
early, we have a good chance of setting the child on his or her path to
success. The problem I see is that the cost of choosing this path is quite
exorbitant and prohibitive to most people in the region. Why is that the case?
And why should education be limited only to those who can afford it? If our population
is not at least able to access this education, what affect will it have on our
society in the future?

Allow me to start with a basic fundamental concept that
we are taught in Arabic. There is an Arabic saying that the miserly are not
served. That is to say that we have to be ready to pay for what we want. So far
so good. We accept that idea when it comes to putting our children at the most
expensive private schools thinking that we have paid for them to get the best
education. However, as this is a business, and it never ceases to amaze me as
to how easily people forget this, the administration of that kindergarten,
school or university has a duty to return the maximum profit to the
shareholders. When you take that into account, that means the more they are
able to reduce the cost, the better it is to the bottom line. Since the land,
building and certain equipments for the school are a necessity and thus a fixed
cost, the only variable costs are the teachers. Thus the more that the
institute can squeeze from the teacher in terms of salary and benefits, the
better off the owners are financially.

In other words, rather than thinking of the teachers as
an asset, they are thought of as a cost. The problem with this is that if
teachers, the people who have been entrusted to care for these vulnerable minds
including those who are at a university level, are constantly under the threat
of dismissal, the chances that they will take the correct action will be slim
as they would not want to put their job at jeopardy. Moreover, if the salary is
low, they will be more concerned about their own financial issue to care for
the child. In essence the teacher will look at teaching as a job rather than a
calling. This will force them to pay less attention to those who are not up to
speed with the particular goal of getting extra income from afterhours extra
tutoring. Just to be fair, this doesn’t apply to all institutes or to all
teachers. However, I am sure that this is the norm in the industry.

To illustrate what I am talking about, for a kindergarten
with three semesters per year, at AED 8,000 per semester that equals AED 24,000
per year. If a class has 10 students, and believe me that this is a low number
per class, that means AED 240,000 per year. For just one class? Out of that
money, how much of it goes to the teacher per annum? 20% or 30%? So that
teacher makes about AED 50,000 per year or about AED 4,500 per month. Is that
truly the caliber of teacher a parent is looking to teach the child?

Don’t get me wrong, they might be the best people but
they will constantly be under financial pressures so their mind will be
occupied by their issues rather than focusing on the child. This situation gets
even more skewed when we look at the school structure. When a parent is paying
about AED 40-50,000 per year for the child and each class will have about 25 to
30 students in class that comes to AED 1,500,000 per class per year. Of that,
what goes to the teacher?

Personally I am and have always been a strong advocate
that the teacher should be paid a really decent salary. The reason I think this
is because they are taking on the most important job in society…molding it. The
youth that will be brought up by their hands will have the greatest impact on
the society the live in. If the teachers are uncaring, that will be the aura of
the society that will prevail. If the teacher has passion for a subject, his or
her student will learn from this and thus society will be a passionate one. If
we disrespect our teachers, it will be the society that will pay for this as
they will grow a caliber of students that will learn no discipline and have no
respect for limits or the law. Is that really what we want?

(Mishal Kanoo is deputy chairman of The Kanoo
Group, one of the largest independent group of companies in the Gulf. The
opinions expressed are his own.)

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