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Teachers throughout Africa earn their Spurs on peanuts

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Picture: Bruce Mackay/Supplied – One of the biggest public sector demonstrations for decades in London, UK, on Wednesday, February 1, 2023. In the UK, members of the National Education Union last week went on strike for seven days after talks with the government broke down, yet Africa’s teachers are silent about their low wages, the writer says.

By Edwin Naidu

Teachers in the United Kingdom (UK) are striking over salary and working conditions. But how do their salaries compare to teachers on the African Continent? And why are teachers on the Continent silent over their poor pay and working conditions?

In the UK, members of the National Education Union last week went on strike for seven days after talks with the government broke down. The salary of a newly qualified teacher in England is $2,816 (about R49,189), while a teacher who has not obtained the necessary teaching qualification, gets about $1,944. According to the BBC, teacher salaries in England fell by an average of 11 percent between 2010 and 2022.

This is not to put down their legitimate labour battle, but the pay of British teachers is substantially more than the $680 median earnings of teachers according to a study of teachers in 15 African countries undertaken by researchers at the World Bank.

Teachers make $100 per month in the Democratic Republic of Congo, $220 in Liberia, $400 in Niger, $660 in Ghana, $800 in Tanzania, $1,600 in Zambia, and $2,300 in Namibia.

Teacher Pay in Africa: Evidence from 15 Countries was compiled by David K Evans at the Centre for Global Development; Fei Yuan from Harvard Graduate School of Education and Deon Filmer.

Countries surveyed includes Côte d’Ivoire, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia with data from national labour force surveys; Burkina Faso, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria and Uganda with data from Living Standards Measurement Surveys (LSMS) with an employment module; and the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia and Senegal.

Their working paper notes that pay levels for public sector workers — and especially teachers — are a constant source of controversy. In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, protests and strikes suggest that pay is low, while simple comparisons to average national income per capita suggest that it is high.

Their study presents data on teacher pay from 15 African countries, along with five comparator countries from other regions. The results suggest that in several (seven) countries, teachers’ monthly salaries are lower than other formal sector workers with comparable levels of education and experience.

But in all of those countries, teachers report working significantly fewer hours than other workers, so that their hourly wage is higher.

So one understands better the lot of the teacher, according to this study, a typical educator in Africa is a 38-year-old male living in an urban area. Teaching is still more likely to be a career for men: on average, three out of five African teachers are male. On the other hand, three-quarters of teachers in the United States (US) are female. But in relative terms, women in the countries in their study are more represented in teaching than in other wage jobs where male workers make up an even larger share (73 percent); these findings are consistent with the pattern in high-income countries like the US (US Bureau of Labour Statistics, 2021).

The study found a lower share of male teachers in the teaching force as national income levels rise across the sample, while the gender difference between teaching and other wage jobs persists across income levels. For example, in Namibia, the country with the highest GDP per capita in the sample, 35 percent of teachers versus 58 percent of other wage workers are male. In Malawi, one of the low-income countries, while the share of male workers is 60 percent in teaching, the share is 80 percent in other wage jobs.

The average age of teachers in the study countries ranges from 35 (in Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Ghana and Zambia) to 45 (in Liberia), with an average of 38. Teachers are about two years older than other wage workers. About 60 percent of African teachers live in urban areas, which is also where most wage workers are located. Considering that 59 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa lives in rural areas, the concentration of teachers in urban areas demonstrates a potential mismatch, consistent with findings from previous research.

In terms of school type, about 20 percent of teachers work in private schools in these countries. This is consistent with the rise of private schools in Sub-Saharan Africa in recent years.

Another important group in the African teaching force is contract teachers. Due to the increasing demand for education, hiring contract teachers is common in Sub-Saharan African countries — as it is in other parts of the world.

The majority of teachers have at least secondary school education in all countries in our sample. The only countries where more than 7 percent of teachers have only a primary degree are Côte d’Ivoire (13.5 percent) and Zambia (15.8 percent). Overall, 53 percent of teachers have post-secondary education. Relative to other wage workers, teachers are much more likely to have post-secondary education in every country except the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is a notable difference in educational attainment between primary school teachers and secondary school teachers in most of the countries. On average, 80 percent of secondary school teachers have post-secondary education compared to 50 percent among primary school teachers. The difference is less important in Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Uganda, where at least 80 percent of both primary and secondary teachers have post-secondary education.

Teacher salary consumes the vast majority of education budgets in many African countries. In South African, for example, at least 70-percent of the R300 billion for Basic Education is spent on salaries.

The average teacher salary in South Africa is $1,260 a month while most experienced educators make up to $ 4,009 monthly. In their lifetime, they would not come anywhere close to the $241,139 (that is R4.2 m) earned weekly by Tottenham Hotspurs prolific striker Harry Kane, which South Africa Tourism deems a good marketing platform, even though this mediocre football team that last won a league title in 1961. Teachers in South Africa have the clearest indication that they mean little to government with the remuneration far from ideal when the country throws money at a wealthy football team. Surprisingly, even Julius Malema and his ilk have kept silent on this.

Little wonder the report says that determining the right level and structure for public sector salaries is a challenge in all countries. For example, the last few years have seen numbers of teacher strikes across the US over salary. Teachers have also downed chalk in Mexico, Argentina, India, Uganda, and Mozambique. In South Africa, teachers seem to have been let down by their unions, which have become emasculated after their leaders got fat-cat government positions.

Current Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi was Secretary-General of the South African Democratic Teacher’s Union from 1990 to 1994, and for a second term from 1994 to 2010 respectively before being seduced by politics. A number of former union leaders have gone on to head government institutions. One can argue that unions in South Africa have become toothless. As a result, teachers have never had it worse. Their activism has been slapped down by a government that co-opted union members so that they don’t bite the hand that feeds them.

Who cares about the teachers in South Africa? They must earn their spurs through hard work. While on the Continent in two weeks at the next African summit, hopes are high that its members will fork out more from the fiscus on education – hopefully, a better deal for teachers, too.

Edwin Naidu heads up Higher Education Media Services – a social enterprise start-up involved in education in South Africa and the African Continent.

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