Do shorter hours or higher wages make better teachers?
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The short answer is: Neither.
ATTRACTING bright, motivated people into teaching is a struggle in many countries. Low pay is often blamed, especially when it is combined with long working hours. The difficulties of teacher recruitment, one argument goes, is why pupils in some countries do so poorly in school. But data from the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, suggest that—at least for educational outcomes—neither hours nor pay matters much. Japanese and South Korean pupils are neck-and-neck near the top of the PISA rankings of 15-year-olds’ literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge. Their teachers are paid about the same, but put in vastly different hours: a whopping 54 hours per week in Japan, compared with 37 in South Korea. Pupils in Estonia, which has the lowest-paid teachers in the group, do better than those in the Netherlands, where teachers’ salaries are five times as high and hours just the same. Even when GDP per person is taken into account the Netherlands is unusually generous to teachers, and Estonia unusually stingy.
So what should teachers who want more free time and better pay do? Those from two-thirds of the countries in the group would benefit from moving to the Netherlands (the others would have to work longer hours after such a move). Portuguese teachers could cut their working day by more than three hours if they moved to Italy, while seeing their salaries clipped by a mere 2%. British teachers who, like most of their compatriots, balk at the idea of learning a new language have options, too. Moving to Canada would bag them a 41% pay rise; to America, 29%; or to Australia, 19%. Only those plumping for Canada would have to work longer for the extra money—by just half an hour a day.