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Using international comparisons to inform debates on salaries for publicly paid educators in South Africa


UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report shows countries’ progress towards the global education goals. In the 2013/4 report that highlights a four-part strategy for providing good teachers, the fourth strategy deals with incentivising teachers to stay in the profession and identifies salaries as a key consideration in attracting the best candidates (UNESCO, 2014). Discussions about the adequacy of teacher pay in South Africa often mention the need to attract good teachers. Comparison across both developed and developing countries in the UNESCO report of teacher wages in public primary institutions indicated that South African teachers were among the best paid. At USD128 per day, South Africa was ranked among the top four countries, after Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg, with Denmark ranked fifth at USD120. Considering the level of development of these countries, this seems counterintuitive. This brief replicates UNESCO’s calculations, to determine whether South African teachers’ wages are comparable with those in Denmark. The level of teacher wages so determined was only USD71, which is similar to Japan and Italy, but even this seems unrealistically high. UNESCO uses purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates for converting teacher pay across countries to dollars – this is where the problem might be. As an alternative strategy to assess the adequacy of teacher pay in international comparison, we use teacher household assets instead of compensation as a proxy for teacher living standards. This results in findings which are considered to be plausible, as South Africa is then comparable with developing countries such as Botswana, Malaysia and Philippines.