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Thu 5 May 2011 10:36 AM

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An education for sale

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

An education for sale

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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Alwyn Lobo 9 years ago

One of the best articles I've read recently! I totally support you Mr. Kanoo. I don't have words to add coz I think you have said it all!

Waleed 9 years ago

That's why, I left the field of teaching and joined a new career with different factors.

Thanks Mr. Kanoo for your words.

Flavia Isabel Ferreira Rosas 9 years ago

I couldn't agree more. I am a teacher and altough I am in Brazil things are not so different. You perfectly stated about respect and discipline. Mainly regarding to teachers who have been disrespected for decades.
Congratulations Mr. Kanoo for such a clear and clever writing about how teachers are important to the children.

Dave 9 years ago

Abu Dhabi's leader is to be applauded for seeking reform in the Emirates Education System representing a major investment in its children.
However the western teachers who have come here as a part of that overhaul seemingly are subject to not only disrespect by the very children they are trying to help but by the Emiratie teachers as well.
Part of this disrespect by the latter may be due to the fact that the Western teachers are paid less than 1/2 of the salary of even an unqualified Emiratie teacher?
Parents too are in need of being educated (as in other countries) as to the vital contribution they can make to their childs education. This is a failing in the US and UK as well where parents look upon teachers merely as 'child minders'.

Nazar 9 years ago

Thanks lot Mr Kanoo, writing such a analytic and realisitic topic. Hope School Management and Authority will take your article seriously and try to improve the system. It affects all of us directly or indirectly. Jazak Allah Khair, for writing such a wondeful article.

zeekay 9 years ago

my wife is a teacher and has a grinding daily routine (7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m). but for all her work in caring for the students (all 28) of them and giving them the best in education (the school is a very reputable school) she is paid but a pittance. so thanks to mr. kanoo's effort in bringing the plight of teacher salaries to the masses, the various school adminstrators/owners should sit up and take notice of this serious discrepancies in the salary structure of a breed of people who will be readying the leaders of the next generation and beyond.

Nahas 9 years ago

Each and every word mentioned is true to the core. I met some of my old teachers recently back in India and heard very sad and depressing details about some teachers who struggled finacially after they retired.

Salvador 9 years ago

I am impressed by this article speaking about an important society issue all over the world. GCC has the chance and the financial capabilities to have the best education but as stated by Mr Kanoo, this is just a business. Another area for improvement I guess if these countries want good citizens that contribute to their societies.

suad alhalwachi 9 years ago

Finland is the only country that pays its teachers the highest salairies. teaching qualifications are sought after there and there is a waiting list on those who want to take a bachelor n teaching or educations. that is a country that values its people as it pays their teachers a high salary. i think paying a high salary to teachers will breed the best pupils.

Marilyn Hillyard 9 years ago

Education is my vocation. What is said above is true - we are underpaid but I genuinely love what I do. I have met superior and inferior educators in the many countries I have worked in and even though I am committed to my work, it is some of my colleagues who acknowledge what I do here and not necessarily the seniors. I have worked at all levels in education and I firmly believe that an uncorrupt system should be brought in where every school is audited - looking at the teachers performance without notice of inspectors coming in- the school should always function in a secure and consistent mode - not just when inspection is due. The teachers should be paid for their efforts according to performance based scales. Teachers need good accommmodation, more security, pension fund availability, good medical and good salaries. Having been in education 37 years, I know the teachers are underpaid and undervalued - a good practitioner deserves recognition and a good financial package.