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Are PH teachers really underpaid?

A few weeks ago, I wrote in this column that our teaching workforce is “uninspired, overworked, and underpaid.” It became clear from the feedback that “underpaid” is a contentious word to describe our educators. Are Philippine teachers poorly compensated, or are their wage grievances misplaced?

Underpayment of teachers is an inaccurate notion that is “rapidly disappearing,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said last year. This was after a teacher claimed that his monthly take-home pay was a measly P3,000. It was startling, because Filipino public school teachers are paid anywhere from P19,000 to P43,000 a month, depending on their level.

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The claim spotlighted, instead, a notorious problem among teachers: massive borrowing of money. We’ve all heard of teachers making loans for various reasons—personal, family, unexpected expenses. It’s so commonplace that, according to Briones, our public school teachers owe lenders a total of P163 billion—not including loans made by private school instructors.

When loans take a huge chunk of teachers’ salaries, one might conclude that these professionals are not actually underpaid, they simply lack financial literacy. This is a common view, but a dangerous assumption to apply in general to all teachers in the country. It’s deeply unfair to dismiss their struggles as a mere result of their own imprudence.

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No doubt many employees live beyond their means or are unable to properly manage their finances. This is evident not just in the academe but in virtually any industry. But the fact that many Filipinos are financially inefficient does not satisfy the question of whether our teachers are paid justly.

When can we say that a worker is underpaid? There are several interpretations, which I considered during friendly discussions with people whose parents and spouses are teachers, who have worked with teachers, and who are themselves teachers.

A project by the University of California-Santa Cruz defined “low wages” by comparing a worker’s salary to the local cost of living. From this perspective, the teachers I talked to could be considered low-wage workers.

Some of them are single with no kids, but even they admit that their salaries are barely enough to cover their own needs. For teachers with families, making ends meet is a monthly miracle.

Prof. John Paul MacDuffie of the renowned Wharton School suggests another standpoint: Workers can compare their inputs—such as the amount of effort in the job—to outcomes such as salary.

Considering their inputs at work, would Filipino teachers say they are being paid fairly? Some of them wouldn’t. In private schools, the monthly pay can be inexplicably low—P8,000 in some places. And in public schools, teachers face demands that are far from reasonable.

The grueling workload is just a start. Many teachers have shared that they are often left with no choice but to spend from their own pockets for needs they shouldn’t be shouldering—from school activities to classroom posters to furniture. “Classroom beautification” is a big deal in public schools; teachers have to handle it themselves or it would be a dent on their ratings.

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These schools do have an allocation for maintenance, operations, and other expenses, but employees find it difficult to tap into these funds. On paper, our educators are well provided for, but in reality, they spend as much as several thousand pesos to fill in gaps in the classroom.

Expenditures are trickier to manage as public school teachers have a once-a-month pay schedule. Several teachers have pointed out that, because their paydays are farther apart, they are more likely to end up borrowing supplementary cash.

One might see this as a sign of poor money management, but consider that these are the same teachers who are saddled with unreasonable classroom costs. Consider, too, that newly hired teachers often have to wait a few months before finally receiving their first salary. It’s not surprising that they turn to loans to get by, right from the start of their job.

And we haven’t even touched on educators who are assigned to remote areas, where transportation and facilities are
major challenges.

Grievances like these are not reflected on six-figure payslips or statistics or memos. The legitimate struggles of teachers are undermined by the generalization that they are irresponsible with their income.

[email protected]

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TAGS: education, Teacher, underpayment, wages
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