An education for sale

When an education is so expensive, why are teachers paid so little, asks Mishal Kanoo

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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Posted by: John Fox

All of the views expressed in the article are very true but one point , the most valuable point in my opinion, is missing. Which is, if a buisness is to be successful it must be efficient and it must maximise profits, these are the basic principles of economics however in the pursuit of profit the concept of efficiency does not just appy to the minimisation of costs but also to ensuring that the product, in this case the edcuation of a child, must also be of the best quality vis a vis the exam results achieved and the social value add to the child must also be maiximised. If one is to only talk about cost minimisation in education as a business it is unrealistic to ignore the concept of the efficent production of the best product possible, i.e. the edcuation of a child.

Posted by: Bola Awosika-Oyeleye

When we blame one side or the other, we are often wrong. The truth probably that not every teacher eats at the bottom of the barrel, and not every proprietor is greedy.

In some countries, the public school system is so bad, that anyone who hopes to have any decent education hopes to go to private school.

In any school, both public and private schools, there are good teachers, and ineffective teachers, much like in any other industry.

There are different components of a good education. The curriculum is important, the teacher is important, so is the environment. Of what use is an excellent curriculum if the teacher does not communicate it well?

I dare say though, that a good teacher is able to make a bad curriculum good, and a good curriculum better. Notice that I said "a good teacher".

While it is important to move the educational system forward, or even create a paradigm shift, we are still going to need the warm bodies in the classroom to pass it along.

Posted by: Rafi

Basic education is as important for the society like other infrastructure and amenities such as roads, metro, power & water, receational facilities etc.

None of these comes free or some are subsidised for natives. Govt could do similar approach when it comes to education.

Infrastructure projects or even major business ventures are started on long gestation and break-even points and the approach to educational infrastructure should also be done similarly. Basically the cost of education should be to cover the teaching and management expenses and to cover the interest installment for the initial costs. Nowhere in the world the fees are used for infrastructure and multiplying wealth by 100 times by some as we know here.

A sustainable (both for govt and parents) education policy and implementation will go a long way in establishing UAE as a knowledge capital for Arab world and retaining talent. Govt could allot land and bank sureties for infrastructure and management could be privatised

Posted by: Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar

In comparing teacher quality and outcomes to other countries, one should appreciate that the "Arabic saying that ... we have to be ready to pay for what we want" with respect to education is not accepted at the individual level.

In other words, countries whose education top the charts on international assessments and economic development (with local human capital) place a premium on public educational quality and challenge the notion that it is acceptable for those with reduced wealth to receive a reduced education.

In these countries education is regarded as a public good and human right. Aside from the individual equity arguments, there is a belief that when educational quality is tied to family finances, society suffers. So the "education market" is regulated because the society (government) is ready to pay for what we want - an entire population of well-educated citizens ready to contribute and develop the country.

Posted by: FormerProfingulf

This hits on two fundamental assumptions which much be changed. First Educators are key assets to any educational institutions. They are the most important asset without them there is no eduction. So, educational institutions should treat them with respect, pay them well, support them in their efforts to educate the students. The second point - duty to shareholders. I believe that it is time for business to expand its understanding of duty. Yes, generating capital to reinvest is an important duty and contributes to the greater good, but this duty can not and should not be out of balance with other duties the greater good. You as a successful business person understand the importance and value of a well educated work force. As you have pointed out the educators who are key developers of this work force need to be compensated fairly and given realistic and reasonable work loads. All benefit from this including share holders. This investment will lead to greater profits.

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