By Modupe Taylor-Pearce
William Russell “Rusty” Bailey III, according to Wikipedia, is an American politician who served as the 17th Mayor of Riverside, California, from 2012 to 2020. Born and raised in Riverside, California, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in political science from the United States Military Academy (West Point) in 1994 and served as an Army helicopter pilot. He also earned a Master of Arts degree in public policy from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Riverside, California is a city with roughly the same size (square miles) as Accra, Ghana. Before Rusty Bailey became a city Mayor, he was a councilman for his ward and also a secondary school teacher. After Mayor Bailey ended his second term as the Maor of Riverside, he went back to the classroom to become a secondary school teacher.
Rusty also happens to be my friend; as an African familiar with the plight of school teachers in Africa, I was perplexed and asked him why he would decide to return to the classroom after having held such a lofty position. He replied by laughing and said that the salaries (including perks) for being a secondary/high school teacher and being a city Mayor were almost the same.
“What?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?” I exclaimed.
“Yes, Modupe, I get decent pay and less stress as a school teacher. Plus I am doing what I really love.”
I was insanely jealous of Rusty when he told me this. I kept thinking…why can’t we pay our teachers a wage that makes them not want to run into politics to make money or work in a bank or an NGO doing the kind of work that they are not passionate about? I know so many smart and intelligent Africans whose true love is teaching and yet are wasting away at jobs that they are not passionate about in mining companies, telecommunications companies, banks, and NGOs. Most of them are highly competent and placed high in their class rank for academic performance. (this is probably why they were given jobs in the private sector). Then it hit me: if the banks and the NGOs and the telcos are where the smart kids end up, then who is in the classroom teaching the children right now?
Yes, you guessed it. The ones who were picking up the rear. When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
What does this mean for our children in Africa? It means that too often, they are being taught by teachers who do not have sufficient foundation in learning to be able to impart the necessary knowledge and learning into the children. It means that they are being taught by teachers who may well fail the exams which they are teaching the students to pass. It means that they are being taught by under-skilled, under-resourced, underpaid, demotivated, and (sometimes) destitute teachers who will eventually allow and encourage cheating by the students to pass exams that they know they have not prepared the students adequately to pass ethically. Is it any wonder that educational outcomes in Africa leave much to be desired? Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between relative teacher wages (ie, the teachers’ wages as compared to the wages of other public servants in a country) and educational outcomes. In countries where teachers are paid salaries that are, on average higher than salaries of public sector workers, educational outcomes are high and positive; in countries (like many African countries), where teacher salaries lag behind those of other public sector workers, educational outcomes are poor.
Why should you care, dear African leader, about this situation?
Because “today’s learning outcomes at school are a powerful predictor of wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run” according to Andreas Scheicher of the Directorate of Education at the OECD. Because the problem will meet you at your company’s doorstep when you may have to run entrance exams for incoming workers because you can no longer trust the reliability of the university degree they carry or the high school certificate that they have due to mal-education and examination malpractice. Because you may have to invest heavily in educating the incoming new workers that you have hired with skills and knowledge that they should have acquired in school, and that extra cost will have to be borne by your company which will take the risk of training the people with little guarantee that they will stay. The problem will also meet you at the doorstep of your home as you may have to pay much higher fees to educate your children at private schools in Africa or abroad; it may result in you having to invest in extra lessons in person or online for your children just so that they can stay abreast of global standards as you try to provide the best for your children in a competitive world.
But it does not stop there; this problem will meet you everywhere you go in Africa if you do not do something to arrest it. Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and erasing moral consciousness by encouraging examinations malpractices propagated by students, teachers, supervisors, school heads, or examination officials, through; impersonation, conspiracy, cheating, deliberate plagiarism, money, and sex for grades, etc. Such students will eventually graduate without sufficiently acquiring the intended skills, knowledge, and attitude. Hence, watering down meritocracy will lead to the discouragement of students from hard work, low productivity, poor job performances, professional inefficiency, bribery, and corruption. Etc. Most of such students will still manipulate their way through to gain jobs without merit. Perilous decisions and policies will be made by such leaders; patients will die in the hands of such doctors and researchers; buildings and bridges will collapse in the hands of such engineers; money will be lost in the hands of such economists, accountants, and politicians; human race will be misled by the doctrines of such religious scholars; justice will be lost in the hands of such magistrates and judges; airplanes will crash in the hands of such pilots; crimes will be permitted in the hands of such police and immigration officers; news reports and assessments will be biased in the hands of such journalists and writers; the next generation will suffer in the hands of such parents. The collapse of the educational standard is the collapse of a nation.
Why are teachers so poorly paid that only the low-performing students end up in the classroom? Perhaps it is because students cannot vote, so the politicians do not prioritize education in their budgets despite giving it lip service with programs touted under “Free Education” or similar language. How can a leader be serious about providing quality education to the children of a country when he spends more than the entire country’s teacher salary budget on one trip to a foreign country? It is said in the Bible that one can tell a person’s heart by where and how they spend their money. If that is the case, then many of our leaders’ priorities in Africa are not in education, when teachers are paid worse (salary and perks) than soldiers or senior civil servants.
Dear African leader, if you are in a position to make policy or budget decisions in public sector, please prioritize the salary and benefits of teachers over the salaries and benefits of other public servants; prioritize the salaries of teachers in rural areas more than those in urban areas and you might even solve some of the challenges you are facing due to urban migration. If you are not in a public policy or budget influencing position, then lobby your elected official to raise the salaries and benefits of teachers to be higher than those of other public sector workers. Do not be fooled by claims of “we are buying books” or “we are building more schools” or “we are providing school feeding for school children”. Research shows that the single biggest determinant of educational outcomes is the quality of the teacher; and the quality of the teacher will be influenced by the relative pay of the teacher. Remember that if you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys, and monkeys cannot teach what they do not know.