November 8, 2017

A PAY RISE FOR TEACHERS?

As October saw Mongolian teachers announce a strike for higher pay, a DeFacto debate was organized to discuss the current circumstances of our education sector, the issues we are dealing with, and how we can find solutions.

The debate was kicked off with a presentation of results from a country-wide survey concluded in September 2016 with support from the Asia Foundation and the Canadian government. With a focus on transparency, ethics and corruption in education sector, the survey studied the perceptions and knowledge of people on ethical issues, causes of corruption, and some other factors.  This survey, which included both qualitative and quantitative analysis, questioned 1,240 people, 90 per cent of which were parents and 10 per cent were teachers, school staff, and others.

The majority of responders (75 per cent of people) said that the extent of corruption in our education sector was moderate, larger, or large. Fifty four per cent said that corruption related to appointments had either large or larger extent, while only three per cent considered that there was no corruption at all. Another area perceived as very corrupt was activity relating to procurement. The survey also revealed that people see deep-seated habits, weak oversight, and low wages as the main causes of corruption, and think that the priority steps to get rid of corruption should be to strengthen control mechanisms and increase pay.

Therefore, the first question of the debate was whether it is the right step to increase salaries for teachers in order to eliminate corruption.

A pay rise for teachers is the right step

Ts.Luvsandorj, Dean and Professor at the Mongolian State University of Education, and J.Batzorig, Head of the Mongolian Trade Union of Education and Science, supported the idea of paying teachers more. Their reasoning revolved around (1) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration to provide for himself and his family, and (2) that everyone must receive an adequate amount of salary for the work they are doing. They said that the current wage for teachers has not been set fairly, and teachers are demanding the salary they are entitled to, rather than asking for an increase.

“The job of a teacher is a most responsible one, and a person’s salary must be subject to the degree of responsibility attached to the job. The average pay in Mongolia’s education sector is seven times less than the global average (1,400 USD). Also, circumstances in Mongolia are very challenging with regard to excess capacity in classrooms, high workloads, and a tough working environment. The quality of education is directly related to teachers’ salaries. If we increase their pay, the quality of our education will improve. It will also help skilled, capable students to pursue a career in teaching. So we should definitely pay teachers more.”

A pay rise for teachers is not the right step

D. Amartuvshin, Board Chairman at Mises Mongolia NGO, and Ts.Munkhbat, who is a lawyer and works as CEO of CDC company, argued against a pay rise for teachers. They said that a pay rise should take place if labor productivity increases, and explained that productivity is only improved through competition (marginal product of labour). It was further noted that Mongolia’s education sector does not have competition, which would mean that a pay rise would not result in greater productivity.

“The nominal wage of teachers has been periodically increased since 2010, and has now incrased 2.4-fold compared to 2007 levels. Teachers’ salaries were increased by 28 per cent more than our GDP growth. We cannot really compare our teachers’ salaries with other countries, because they have much higher GDP than Mongolia.“

“The nominal wage increased, but labour productivity did not. So, we should not raise the base salary when it is not connected to productivity. It would be the same as handing 70,000 MNT in cash to students every month.”

“Also, the inflation rate increases when there is a pay rise for teachers. What about other people? When public servants get increased salary, the private sector becomes the victim.”

“Our schools do not have much management authority. Every time teachers’ salaries are to be incrased, a government decision is always required. Schools should be in control of their own management and operate independently. Directors of these schools are appointed on a 4-year term because they depend on politicians.”

“Our education system needs a complete reorganization in order to connect salary with the outcome of the work and to create competition.”

Rebuttals

Those who are in favor of increasing teachers’ pay rebutted their opponents by saying that the productivity of the education sector cannot be evaluated in the same way it is done in other industries. They argued that the value of what the education sector produces does not materialize in the short term, and its overall outcome is dependent on many other factors. In addition, they elaborated by saying that education sector should not talk about competition because schools must provide general education to every child equally, and further explained that competition boosts inequality in society.

“Increasing pay for teachers will not affect inflation. The trade union has completed several studies. The salary of teachers has a unique aspect. On top of their base salary, teachers should be given a bonus calculated on the number of years they have worked.”

Those who are against increasing pay for teachers have argued that what fairness means in the labor market is when you do your job well, you get paid more and vice-versa. They said that it is neither fair nor just when some school directors are still in their positions after conspiring with local authorities and making personal gains after selling the land for physical education and erecting apartment blocks in its place.

“We cannot assume that the quality of education will improve only by increasing salary. In contrast, giving everyone a pay rise will reduce productivity and proactiveness. We need to look at what other countries have done. For example, countries such as Singapore and Canada have introduced a voucher system and abandoned their former constituency-based system. If we let students choose their own schools, competition will eventually increase.”

Conclusion

The participants who were opposed to increasing pay did not say that it was entirely wrong. What they emphasized was the importance of linking the wage system with productivity. It was evident from the debate that our education sector is facing many more issues than teachers’ salary. We will not get our desired outcome only by increasing pay, without discussing other issues and find their solutions.

The Asia Foundation survey has shown that corruption is widespread in education sector. Although it is considered that the low salary of teachers is causing corruption, an increase in pay will not make corruption go away. Most of the corruption cases in our education sector are linked to the management of the school. Change will start when people, including residents and parents, start asking around, discover why the land for physical education at schools was sold, find out who it was sold to and how, and where the money went.

2017.11.01

Trans. by Amar.B