Low salaries may be forcing some schoolteachers out of the classroom during scheduled classes in order to support their families.
This was one of the points made on the first day of the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture’s Annual Teachers Conference held at the T.A.T.T.E Building this week.
Fred Brooker, an education Consultant, spoke during the opening about “international and regional lessons learnt for teachers and what improves learning.” A number of causes were identified that eat into the recommended yearly curriculum time and could consequentially truncate students learning and achievements.
“Student absenteeism, teacher absenteeism, late start or early finish, exam closures and in-services teacher training,” he said.
Mr. Brooker highlighted a study that showed reducing teacher absenteeism has been shown to improve students learning.
“There was a very good study out of India where they reduced teacher absenteeism from forty-two percent to twenty-three percent and learning improved.”
In Vanuatu, Mr. Brooker explained, teachers “could not survive off their salary”. He explained that their absenteeism occurred when they were seeking additional income to support their family.
Many of the teachers attending the Annual Conference yesterday believed that teachers salaries here are also inadequate.
Leitu Mekisateko from Faleata College is one of those teachers.
“It’s really not enough to support the family,” she said. “Unless you have a Bachelor degree, it’s not enough to deal with the family expenses.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi said that the government would dedicate over fifteen per cent of the budget to education.
But this is not enough, Mr. Brooker said, who pointed out that “internationally a benchmark of twenty percent of the budget should go to education.”
He stressed however that money alone couldn’t buy a better education.
“Countries like Zambia are performing poorly in education but are also spending twenty percent … It’s not how much, but how.”
Alofagauiloa Isaisara from Vaimauga College noted that some people are perturbed from entering the career due to financial concerns.
“Teachers salary is not always enough to live on. It stops people going into the career, they think it’s not enough to support their family.”
The three year wage readjustment that began last year will see entry level salaries for teachers go up seven percent again this year. At the end of the three years the entry level salary for teachers holding a Diploma in Education will sit just below $16,000 and $28,000 for those with Bachelor degrees.
Travel costs depending on school distance from where they live can also greatly influence whether or not the salary is adequate to live off.
Asked if he thought a teacher’s salary was enough, Dempsey Tiafia from Itu-o-Tane College replied that it depended on the location of the teacher’s posting.
“You have to think about where we’re from and where the school is. If they’re posted far from home then it’s not enough. I’m close and walk in the morning and the afternoon, so for me it’s enough. I also think that for those without a degree it’s not enough.”
Matauaina Arana from Avele College was posted at a school far from where he lives and spends one third of his income on transport every week. The remaining money is not enough to cover his expenses.
“For me and my family, our salary is not enough even with a degree. I have to spend a lot of money on transport and what’s left is not enough to cover what we need,” he said.
He has also seen the linkage between absent teachers seeking to supplement their salary and an impaired learning environment for their pupils.
“Absentees of teachers is one of the major issues. They [students] lose so much time to learn. I give all the teachers the challenge of being here all the time.”
Despite financial concerns from many teachers, Moleli Va’a from Avele College expressed the students learning to be the overriding calling.
“It’s not enough but our role is more important than the money. What is important is our call from God to go there and teach. The best result for me is the outcome, for the kids to get their future.”