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.)