Where are teachers paid the most & the least compared to other professions in Asia?

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Asians are well known for their heavy focus on education. Naturally, one would expect this to translate into societal respect given to teachers.

But does this also mean that teachers are paid well, and how do different Asian countries compare to one another in this regard? In order to find out, we compiled data on the average income of secondary school and high school teachers in 14 countries in Asia-Pacific (plus the US and France for comparison with western countries).

However, a simple comparison of income doesn't quite capture how teacher income compares to the rest of the society.

Therefore, we compared the ratio between average teacher compensation to each country's GDP per capita.

KEY FINDINGS

In most countries, teachers earn incomes that approximately equal their country's GDP per capita.

In some countries like Korea, Thailand, India and Japan, teachers earned up to 175 per cent of their country's GDP per capita, signaling that they earn more than an average person.

In some other countries like Vietnam, China and Singapore, teachers earned 70-80 per cent of their country's GDP per capita, signaling that they earn less than an average person.

TOP COUNTRIES WHERE TEACHERS GET PAID THE MOST

According to our research of 16 countries, teachers typically earned about their respective country's GDP per capita. However, in certain countries, teachers earned meaningfully more than this level. Below, we explore some of the top countries in Asia for teacher income.

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KOREA

Korea, infamous for its education craze that sometimes makes teenagers spend 15 hours or more per day on studying, seems to be paying the most for its teachers compared to other countries in Asia. Studies estimate that an average high school teacher makes about KRW65 million per year (S$76,070), which is 175 per cent of the country's GDP per capita. However, this high level of teacher income may not necessarily be related to the country's heavy emphasis on education. In fact, a big chunk of students' time is actually spent out of school; a lot of time is actually spent at extra curricular classes at cram schools (known as 'hagwons') or with private tutors, and has nothing to do with the schools themselves. Instead, it seems like teachers get paid a lot because they are public servants; recently, there was a documentary in Korea that shed light on how public servants in Korea earn very high incomes and also enjoy solid job security.

Country Teacher Salary (USD) GDP Per Capita (USD) Salary as % of GDP Per Capita
KR 54,740 31,346 175%
Average     110%

INDIA

According to sites like Indeed, Glassdoor and Payscale, teachers in India make about US$3,500 (S$4,735) to US$5,000 per year on average, while teachers at public schools (i.e. government teachers) earn more at around US$8,000 per annum. While this may sound low compared to other countries, it's actually about 2x the country's GDP per capita. India's economy has been heavily reliant on upgrading its labour base to knowledge workers, and perhaps this high teacher income reflects the country's efforts to invest in its population's education. However, the average may be inflated due to government teaching jobs, as there have been many reports of heavily underpaid teachers in India's private education sector that employs about 43 per cent of the teachers in the country.

Country Teacher Salary (USD) GDP Per Capita (USD) Salary as % of GDP Per Capita
IN 3,525 2,036 173%
Average     110%

THAILAND

Thailand ranked as #3 in our study in terms of paying the most to its teachers. According to Glassdoor & Payscale, teachers in Thailand earned about US$12,000 per year, roughly 1.7x the country's GDP per Capita. This finding is also consistent with UNESCO's finding in 2011, which found that teacher income was 2.6x higher than the nation's GDP per capita. Thailand has had a series of education reform in the past decade, and this high teacher pay may reflect some of that effort. However, according to UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring Report, Thailand's education system still faces some major challenges, such a 85 per cent completion rate for lower secondary education.

Country Teacher Salary (USD) GDP Per Capita (USD) Salary as % of GDP Per Capita
TH 11,850 7,187 165%
Average     110%

3 COUNTRIES WHERE TEACHERS GET PAID BELOW GDP PER CAPITA

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we found 3 countries where teacher salary was lower than the respective country's average productivity. Below, we discuss some findings about each country one by one.

VIETNAM

Vietnam ranked at the bottom of our study. Even its experienced teachers earned about US$1,800 per year on average, which is about 70 per cent of the country's GDP per capita. According to news reports, underpaid teachers have been a problem in the country, where 40 per cent of teachers said they would choose a different career if they had the chance. This is reportedly also leading to lower enrollment standards for teaching schools as well, possibly leading to a vicious cycle.

Country Teacher Salary (USD) GDP Per Capita (USD) Salary as % of GDP Per Capita
VT 1,799 2,551 71%
Average     110%

CHINA

Despite China's success in academia (China often ranks at the top of the world for math and science competitions), its teachers seem to be earning about 76 per cent of the country's GDP per capita. While teachers in China are paid similarly to other public servants, there actually has been some discrepancy in the two professions' payout structure in recent years, causing some uproars and protests from teachers recently.

Country Teacher Salary (USD) GDP Per Capita (USD) Salary as % of GDP Per Capita
CN 7,273 9,608 76%
Average     110%

SINGAPORE

Singapore was perhaps one of the most surprising parts of our study. While Singaporeans are known for both its enthusiasm for and success in education (Singapore spends 20 per cent of its public spending on education and regularly tops the world ranking in various education related awards and metrics), their teachers earn approximately 80 per cent of the country's GDP per capita. Still, they are earning a relatively high income of US$50,331 on average, according Varkey Foundation's Global Teacher Status Index 2018. In fact, this rivals the highest levels around the world in terms of pure dollar amount, and suggests that the low teacher income to GDP per capita ratio is a result of high productivity of the economy as a whole.

Country Teacher Salary (USD) GDP Per Capita (USD) Salary as % of GDP Per Capita
SG 50,331 64,041 79%
Average     110%

METHODOLOGY

For this study, we gathered average income data of high school or secondary school teachers in 16 different countries (14 in Asia plus the US and France). Most of this information came from career related sites like Glassdoor, Jobsalary and Payscale. In some cases where such sites didn't have enough information, we also relied on other sources like news reports, and studies conducted by OECD, UNESCO and Varkey Foundation. For GDP per capita, we relied on IMF's data for 2018.

Country Teacher Salary (USD) GDP Per Capita (USD) Salary as % of GDP Per Capita
KR 54,740 31,346 175%
IN 3,525 2,036 173%
TH 11,850 7,187 165%
JP 51,593 39,306 131%
PH 3,844 3,104 124%
NZ 47,589 41,267 115%
AU 59,568 56,352 106%
MA 11,120 10,942 102%
HK 48,531 48,517 100%
ID 3,834 3,871 99%
TW 23,846 24,971 95%
US 59,170 62,606 95%
FR 37,450 42,878 87%
SG 50,331 64,041 79%
CN 7,273 9,608 76%
VT 1,799 2,551 71%
Average     110%

This article was first published in ValueChampion.

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