From the Editor - Welcome to the land of milk and honey

5th July 2013 at 01:00

There is, it seems, an El Dorado for teachers: a place where pay is so high in relation to the cost of living, and so far above the average salary, that teachers swagger around with all the well-upholstered satisfaction of bankers and politicians elsewhere.

This is a country where teachers can afford large homes, double garages and several marriages. This is a country whose teachers are so contented that when unions called on their members to defend their privileges, so few of them voted to strike that planned action had to be scrapped. It's difficult to march while teetering on Louboutins.

Welcome to Luxembourg, which pays its secondary teachers on average a whopping $90,625 a year, some $40,000 above the average national wage. It tops our international table of teacher pay benchmarked to the cost of living (pages 28-32).

Before teachers elsewhere tell their principals what they really think of them, hand in their notice and jet to the Grand Duchy, however, they should be aware of one thing: teachers in state schools there are required to speak not only French, German and English but also Luxemburgish. Not many teachers come equipped with Luxemburgish, so jobs are more or less restricted to the locals.

Putative migrants should also be aware of something else: teachers in Luxembourg may be very well paid but it doesn't seem to have benefited the country's schools. Luxembourg trails in 23rd place out of 35 countries for the proportion of young people expected to complete upper-secondary education (typically for 16- to 18-year-olds), according to the OECD. In fact, there seems to be little correlation between teaching salaries and a country's educational performance. Highly regarded South Korea is in at number two for teachers' pay but that other educational high-flyer, Finland, trails two-thirds of the way down the table at 21st.

The US, which does relatively well in salary terms, in at number four, also scores poorly in global performance rankings. But its relatively high pay placement obscures a less welcome fact: teaching salaries lag average earnings by a wide margin. There's not much benefit being rich among foreigners if you feel poor in comparison with the neighbours.

Spare a thought, too, for teachers in countries that languish at the bottom of our table and whose wages lag average national pay rates. Those Nordic countries that regularly top the best-places-to-live surveys do not appear to believe that the good life should be enjoyed by teachers. Sweden, Norway and Iceland pay their teachers badly in comparison with everyone else. If they invested as much in their teachers as they do in winning Eurovision imagine how those professionals would benefit. Lowest placed of all are teachers in Estonia. Its teachers earn just over $12,000 a year, nearly 50 per cent less than the average wage.

Of course, what our table cannot reflect is the status teachers enjoy in their respective countries. Teachers in England and Scotland are paid relatively well but the esteem in which they are held by the media in particular is not commensurate with their salaries. So they may be cheered to learn that the esteem in which journalists are held in the UK really is commensurate with their pay.

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