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Evaluation report

Global 1998: Managing Teacher Costs for Access and Qualtiy

Author: Mehrotra, S.; Buckland, P.; UNICEF NYHQ

Executive summary


Some 120-140 million children in developing countries are out of school. Assuming a pupil-teacher ratio of 30, some 4 million new teachers are needed to reach Net Enrolment Rate (NER) of 100. The challenge is most significant in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). These two regions account for nearly two-thirds of the additional teachers needed to reach Universal Primary Education. This challenge underlies the argument of the paper.

Purpose / Objective

In industrialized countries teacher salaries account for around 80% of recurrent expenditure at the primary level. In developing countries that share is even higher. The issue of teacher salaries poses a conundrum, especially in many least developed countries. Teachers cost too much to the state, but in many developing countries, they earn too little, forcing them to supplement their income, or live below the poverty line. This paper tries to address the issue of managing teacher costs, while still ensuring access and quality. The paper rests on a number of propositions. Although governments take the position that teacher salaries cannot be reduced, in fact teacher real incomes have been reduced in many countries.


The paper analyses changes in real wages of teachers over the 1980s and early 1990s, and teacher salaries as compared to income per capita. It goes on to compare average teacher salaries to trends in pupil-teacher ratios and also trends in teacher qualifications. It further compares average teacher salaries with other occupations in public administration.

Key Findings and Conclusions

For the 11 SSA countries for which data is available, salaries declined for most or remained constant in real terms. For the 15 Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries that data exists, salaries declined in 10 of them (mainly Latin American countries). This is not surprising since all education expenditure was squeezed during the economic crisis of the 1980s. In both regions evidence accumulated that teachers were taking on second jobs. The ILO says that especially in Latin America and in some African countries, teacher salary cuts were deeper than those for other civil servants. For the 6 Asian countries that data exists, salaries increased in real terms.

As regards cross-regional or cross-country teacher salary comparisons, the ratio of teacher salaries to GDP per capita remains the usual comparator. UNESCO data for the early 1990s suggest that the ratio has not changed much from that in the 1980s. For West and Central Africa, the ratio is 7.28; for Southern and Eastern Africa 5.9; for Asia 1.84; and for LAC 1.79. The high African ratio has normally been seen as proof that teachers cost too much there.

This ratio is misleading as the multiple falls as income per capita rises, because education of an average income earner rises relative to teachers' education. It is more important to estimate the deviation of this ratio from a trend line of GNP per capita, rather than actual GNP per capita. Another possible basis for inter-country comparison is the ratio of teacher salary to GDP per capita relative to the literacy rate in the country. We obtain the predicted value for the ratio, given Managing Teacher Costs for Access and Quality ii the literacy rate. Many francophone African and a few anglophone countries still deviate from the expected trend. Only in Africa does the teacher salary level exceed the predicted ratio by a significant margin, with some exceptions.

Given that NERs are well below 100, and hence the need for expanding the number of teachers is considerable, the case for managing teacher costs is overwhelming. The paper discusses three sets of standard strategies for managing costs: changing salary structure, improving teacher utilization and employing teacher aides and volunteers.

Under changing salary structure the paper briefly discusses: delinking teacher salaries from civil service salaries, changing rates of progression through the scale, delinking salaries from advanced qualifications, incentives and supplementary allowances (housing, transport, hardship), and merit awards and master teacher schemes.

Under improving teacher utilization the paper briefly discusses: redeployment of teachers, increasing teacher workloads, introducing multi-grade teaching, improving MIS (e.g. to detect 'ghost' teachers, incorrect salary payments), and introduction of accelerated learning programs for overage pupils.

But it is on teacher aides, volunteers and teachers in training that we concentrate, since the other measures do not address the Challenge, according to which a very substantial increase in teacher numbers is required to achieve UPE. Changes in the salary structure and teacher utilization are a necessary but not sufficient condition for resolving the teacher costs conundrum. The major strategies that have enabled the rapid expansion of systems have almost always involved the recruitment of unqualified or lower-qualified teachers, or the teachers in training, or teacher aides/volunteers.

These strategies come with a high risk of compromising quality, unless complementary strategies are put in place to address the major threats to quality. The complementary inputs increase costs, so it is possible that the end result on costs may involve only slight savings, but the cost effectiveness might be greater. In all cases there are trade-offs involved, and there are relevant lessons to be learnt from the experience of such programs. We discuss a number of programmers, in Managing Teacher Costs for Access and Quality iii most of which UNICEF has been directly involved.


The cases we described are driven by the same need to manage costs, but have increased enrolment. Some lessons emerge:

Employment of unqualified or less-qualified personnel must be accompanied by strategies to provide on-going support in the form of curriculum materials, in-service training and guidance. These bring with them attendant costs which must be taken into the calculations when estimating the cost savings in employing less-qualified teachers.

Experience suggests that in-service programs using a combination of distance and contact education is far more cost-effective than institutional pre-service training, if the benefits of teaching service during training are taken into account.

Expansion of the teaching force using unqualified teachers who undergo training to become qualified can impose unaffordable cost consequences as the teachers qualify for higher salaries. Planning of such expansions should take account of this factor. Given that the correlation between female teachers and enrolment of girls is known to be high, the experience shows that increasing the number of female teachers is possible in the remotest areas, in traditional Islamic societies (e.g. Bangladesh, Egypt), even in rural areas.

Community participation has been critical in almost every initiative involving expansion of the teaching force while controlling costs. This has taken different forms, e.g. participation in the management of the school, or supplementing the salaries or non-salary costs of teacher aides, or relieving the state of other costs, such as school construction or teacher housing.

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