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How Do You Support Teachers? Pay Them

Education For All Blog
By Rebecca Winthrop, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution
February 19, 2013

(Click here to view the original article.)

In many fragile and conflict-affected states, teachers are largely responsible for rebuilding and sustaining education systems, even when the government is unable or unwilling to do so. Teachers can be found working in some of the hardest conditions around the world and are often on the front lines of violence.

Education, and, with it teachers, have increasingly become targets of attack.

Between 2006 and 2009:

  • 439 teachers, education employees and students were killed in Afghanistan;
  • 117 teachers and students were assassinated in Colombia and 435 education staff also received death threats;
  • and the list goes on.
However, this form of violence is not the only thing that makes teaching especially difficult in these contexts. Teachers, like their students, have often been affected in other ways by the crisis themselves, including having their livelihoods disrupted by being displaced from their homes and losing loved ones. In addition, often the teachers working in this context are paid infrequently, if at all. A survey of teachers in post-war Liberia showed that, routinely, teachers had to work three jobs (two after they were finished teaching) just to feed their families.

Supporting teachers in all contexts, but particularly in these difficult situations, is clearly essential–from both a human rights as well as a state-building perspective. Teachers deserve conditions of work that are safe, adequately supported and provide steady financial compensation. Any country would be hard-pressed to build an education system with an essentially volunteer teaching force.

But supporting teachers amid crisis, including finding innovative ways of ensuring their regular payment, is also a smart move for those concerned with the larger projects of both state building and peace building in fragile states. Sustaining education services in crisis contexts is not only possible but an especially good idea because, if done well, it can be essential in protecting children and ensuring that young people continue the learning process. Education services amid crisis may not look like normal school–in fact teaching and learning may take place under trees or inside homes–but there are now years of documented best practices as well as globally accepted international standards on how to do it well.

Educational continuity amid crisis is important because we know that the longer a child’s education is interrupted, the harder it is for that child to find his or her way back to school and also because it lays the foundation for an early “peace dividend” post-crisis. A rapid revitalization of the education sector after a conflict or disaster has been described as one of the quickest ways of building citizens’ trust in the state (after all, schools are the most pervasive state institution) and can be a way of demonstrating to previously marginalized constituencies that they have an important stake in the political settlement or rebuilding process.

Often one barrier, if not the biggest one, to revitalizing and rebuilding education systems post-crisis is the inability to regularly pay teachers. Faced with long and expensive trips to retrieve their salaries, not being on the payroll or having many months pass without pay, many teachers choose to exit their profession and earn a living another way. Governments and international agencies often struggle to pay teachers due to broken banking systems, outdated active employee lists, and limited ability to monitor or track payments.

A recent report written by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings and the CfBT Education Trust, Building Effective Teacher Salary Systems in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States, examines different strategies for ensuring that teachers can be regularly paid in fragile states. While past research on this issue has focused on strategies for setting pay scales and creating sustainable financing, this report looks at the range of possible modalities for actually delivering compensation to teachers.

The report lays out a framework for this analysis by highlighting the five main components of an effective teacher compensation system where the main bottlenecks occur:

  1. banking
  2. public financial management
  3. auditing
  4. payroll, and
  5. Education Management Information System/Teacher Management System (EMIS/TMS).
It also provides examples–from a range of sectors–where actors have addressed one or more of these bottlenecks. The solutions documented vary greatly depending on context, ranging from pooled donor funds to mobile banking to employing the private sector to deliver payments. For example, the report highlights the case of Sierra Leone where an international financial accounting firm was subcontracted to pay teachers. The firm charged a 10 percent service fee but reduced leakages from 42 percent loss under the public sector to 8.5 under the new arrangement.

Ultimately, the report argues that ensuring an effective teacher compensation system is equally important to increasing the financing for teacher salaries. Given that teacher salaries are often the largest share of any education budget, getting them right is essential for not only the benefit of young people but the health of whole education system.