Valuing teachers is about more than their salaries

By Sunny Varkey, founder and trustee of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for education partnerships

I am immensely proud that my parents were teachers. I recently asked my mother what she believed they had achieved by becoming teachers. She spoke fondly about the goodwill that they enjoyed locally. Teachers were often the most educated people in a community, so were turned to for advice and guidance.

Sadly, times have changed. In many countries, teachers’ status has fallen. This decline is profoundly damaging for the life chances of the next generation. If teachers aren’t respected in society, children won’t listen to them in class, parents won’t reinforce the messages that are coming from school and the most talented graduates will continue to disregard teaching as a profession.

globalteachersindexTo draw attention to the importance of how society sees teachers, the Varkey GEMS Foundation created the Global Teacher Status Index, published this month, which measures the level of respect for teachers in different countries.

My personal ambition for teachers is that they are treated with as much respect as other highly skilled professionals with the most important jobs in society, such as doctors. However, out of 21 countries surveyed in the index, only in China did people see teachers as having an equal status with doctors. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, fewer than 5% of people thought that teachers had an equivalent status.

We also asked a question that gets to the heart of whether teaching is a respected profession: would you encourage your own child to become a teacher? While 50% of parents in China would provide positive encouragement, only 8% would do so in Israel. Equally worrying is the report’s finding that in many countries, particularly across Europe, more people believe that pupils do not respect teachers than believe that they do.

But the index is not a counsel of despair. East Asian countries such as China and South Korea show that teaching retains its respected position in some parts of the world.

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Click to enlarge

If we want future generations to have the right values and the best life chances, then part of the answer is simple: we need to recruit the best and brightest candidates into the profession, and look at how we can retain them. Finland, which comes top of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, has made teaching so well regarded that the best graduates compete for the job — all of whom have master’s degrees.

Research shows that if teachers are paid more, their students learn more. The Global Teacher Status Index indicates that in many countries people think that teachers deserve to be paid more — even in countries like Finland that already have excellent results. There was also overwhelming support for teachers to be paid according to their performance in all 21 countries surveyed. Given such public demand, governments should consider this as a step.

But improving pay and conditions alone won’t restore teachers’ status. Teaching also needs to be valued culturally. There are many fictional representations on television of heroic doctors saving lives, but few stories that show how good teachers can turn lives around.

Every year the United Kingdom celebrates International Nurses’ Day  with a service in Westminster Abbey. President Ronald Reagan introduced National Nurses’ Day in the United States, which is an opportunity for the media to highlight the achievements of nurses. Teachers should be honoured in similar ways. We need to think harder, push further, and dream bigger, if we are to find ways of truly celebrating the ‘noble’ profession.



  1. hear hear! This kind of work is exactly what we need- if we don’t support teachers, how can we ever improve the education systems of the world?

  2. I agree with this opinion article. The teacher is a noble profession and the state should be more concerned as salary, bonus, teaching equipment. Moreover, the Supreme Authority State should hold a special event to honor teachers!

  3. I read another article on this topic regarding the wages of teachers in UAE especially in Dubai where cost of life is pretty high (expensive housing fees).

    And although teachers do a great job, their salaries are not always in line with the quality of their job.

    They are like the base of the society and I don’t see many kids willing to become teachers/professors because the status of teacher felt down dramatically over the past years… 🙁

  4. This vision of teachers with a level of social status, respect, pay and cultural validation commensurate with their importance for education results resonates with all of us. But I have found no research evidence — and little country experience, even if not rigorously evaluated — on the key question: how do you raise the profile of the teaching profession once it has sunk to a low level, as in the US and most countries in Latin America, and indeed, elsewhere? In these countries, the teaching profession has become characterized by: i) only students from the low end of the academic distribution entering teacher training schools; ii) relatively low standards for hiring into public sector teaching jobs (because few teacher training graduates could meet high entry standards); iii) little effective performance evaluation or professional development in-service; iv) no ability to weed out truly bad teachers, who corrode school climate and undermine the efforts of the many motivated teachers; v) few strong candidates for school directors, because most come from an underqualified, burned-out teaching force. In these contexts, across-the-board pay raises are not enough (several countries have tried this with no results). But I am unable to find good evidence on alternative strategies. It is clear that such strategies will have to be multi-dimensional. But someone please point me to an example that has worked!

  5. It is true that the world is changing but it is good to remember that computers can not replace the work of teachers. The teaching profession is the base or foundation of the nation. Teachers made doctors and engineers. The respect for teachers should be seen beyond their salaries.

  6. Thanku! I agree with this opinion article. The teacher is a noble profession and the state should be more concerned as salary, bonus, teaching equipment.

  7. But does a professional make someone poor?, as teachers sometimes we lack management.

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