Public-school teachers are comparatively the most productive professionals a nation can have on a continuing basis. In a whole lifetime of teaching, where a teacher handles, say, five sections of 60 pupils each every school year during a 40-year career span, she helps educate something like 12,000 pupils and nudges them a grade or year closer to becoming productive professionals themselves. Of course, nine other teachers have to work with her to achieve that, so the countryâs current public teaching force of 327,000, if just trained and motivated to do a superb job, can assure this country of something like 98,100,000 capable high school graduates every 10-year cycle and a total of 392,400,000 graduates within the teacherâs 40-year career spanâmore than enough to replace all of the undesirable products of the previous half centuryâs half-baked and largely misdirected teaching.
This visionary mathematics for the public school system performing at peak efficiency is probably too fancy, too idealistic, and too incendiary, and those with only a piddling understanding of mathematics really should not fret if they donât get it. But the numbers are probably reasonably accurate and for real. They are as real as the fact that in a longer career span of probably 50 or 55 years, a good number of lawyersâthe most glamorized and usually the most lucrative-earning professionals of allâprobably will litigate only a few hundred cases that only serve to keep moneyed criminals and organized deceivers out of jail, work out schemes for maybe a dozen corporations to do gray-area or outright unethical things legally, or legislate laws that often only get our law enforcers in a perfect bind (like those that prevent them from evicting professional squatters without giving them a relocation site). As to the medical doctor and the dentist and the engineer and the accountant and the journalist, itâs probably prudent to keep them out of this productivity equation. We may not avail of their services very often or deal with them directly, but when we do, they sure can alleviate suffering and give us comfort and reliable informationâthus giving us peace of mind and helping make our lives demonstrably better.
But before we hear again that righteous platitude about all professions being equally honorable (as if professional con artists and professional pyramiders and Ponzi schemers could be honorable), letâs go back to the baseline data about this countryâs public school system. The Philippines, as already mentioned, currently has something like 327,000 elementary school teachers, with more than 80 percent of the countryâs Department of Education budget of 106.5 billion Philippine pesos (US$2 billion) going to their salaries. And, in what seems to be a jolting surprise, a recent World Bank report says that Philippine public school teachers are among the best compensated in the world.
Based on gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, according to the World Bank report, the starting salaries of Filipino teachers were much higher compared to those of most Asian, Latin American, and even some European Community countries. They were higher than Koreaâs and matched only by Jordanâs. But then we should be very careful about these worldwide macro level comparisons. Too many inter-nation adjustments are brought to bear on their computations as to render them meaningless in real domestic terms.
Viewed more realistically at the micro level, the compensation for Philippine public school teachers boils down to a starting salary of about 11,000 Philippine pesos (US$208) a month.* This is lower than what a salaried janitor gets in the better-paying government corporations or private companies. The even more shocking downside is that this entry-level salary for teachers stays practically at that level even after 15 years of service. In high-teacher-salary countries like Korea and Jordan, those entry-level salaries almost get doubled after 15 years by performance incentives and regular salary increases. In contrast, for the backbreaking job the Philippine public teacher puts in, the system provides her absolutely no incentives or rewards at all. It plays a blind eye to the need to motivate her to teach well and to keep her in the profession. Worse, the World Bank study found, the Philippine public school systemâin an unbelievable act of illogicâkeeps the salary scales the same for both primary and secondary teachers even if the work and the required qualifications vastly differ. Indeed, after more than a century, the Philippine public education system is thus still ridiculously muddling through in managing its most important development resource.
So, if we need better proof of why the teaching profession cannot attract the best and the brightest of the land, look no further. If we need better proof of why students would rather become lawyers in a nation already perilously awash with lawyers, or would rather lead lonely lives abroad working as machine-room engineers and nurses and physical therapists and housemaids, or would rather work as card dealers in the worldâs casinos or as boilermen in the darkest recesses of ocean-going ships, it is this. If we need the smoking gun for why this country will forever be engaged in a quixotic quest for good teachers, and why it will forever be gripped by a vicious cycle of national incompetence and illogic and superstition, it is this. (July 14, 2003)
From the weekly column âEnglish Plain and Simpleâ by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, July 14, 2003 issue Â© 2003 by The Manila Times. All rights reserved.
*I was initially worried that the 2003 salary figures here for public school teachers would have grown so substantially today as to render this column obsolete. As I indicated in the introductory essay to this column, though, the salary level of public teachers has hardly changed all these years, making my observations in this column still essentially accurate and as relevant as ever.
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