by Mai Linh
My younger sister recently graduated from university with an English teaching diploma. She is in the process of looking for a job, but my advice to her is don't become a teacher if she wants to buy a house and a car in Ha Noi.
The reason for this advice is that a friend of mine, Le Phuong Giang, is an English teacher working under contract at a private high school in another province. She is paid VND45,000 ($2.2) for each 45 minute class. With an average of 40 classes per month, she earns VND1.8million ($85.7), with no salary during the two summer months when students are off.
"Really, the salary is discouraging to me. I regret having chosen this career," Giang said, adding that some of her university classmates worked for foreign companies and were paid up to VND10 million ($476) per month.
Trying to survive on only VND1.8 million per month is ridiculous. The amount barely covers enough for food, transport and mobile phone bills, and if you're really good with money, you might have bit left over to treat yourself to some books. And of course, no savings for a house or a car.
Nguyen Cam Van, a literature teacher, had to open a stationery store to earn more money. Van gets paid around VND2.5 million (US$119) per month from teaching. "The pay takes my enthusiasm for teaching away, especially when costs continue to rise and I struggle to make ends meet every day."
Van and Giang are not alone. Large numbers of teachers are fed up with their jobs, and several headlines highlighting the issue have stirred public opinion recently.
More than 52 per cent of high school teachers said they would choose a different career if they had another chance. The figures for primary and secondary teachers were nearly 41 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively.
The initial findings of the survey conducted by the Viet Nam Peace and Development Foundation on teachers from 36 schools in five provinces set alarm bells ringing for the future of the education sector.
"I was shocked to see these figures on the internet," said the mother of a grade-eleven boy who is worried about his education. "How can teachers perform well if they no longer love their jobs?"
The survey found that the average income of teachers was about VND3.5 million ($167) per month which would be increased to 4.1-4.7 million ($195-223) after 25 years in the job – if they don't burn out and decide to quit before then.
Half of the interviewed teachers had salaries lower than the average level. Let's make a comparison with the average salary of bankers, allegedly more than VND10 million ($476), or at Electricity of Viet Nam, about VND7.3 million ($347), to see the gap. It's hardly surprising that teachers take on part time jobs such as private tutoring, small businesses and farming to supplement their incomes.
And low pay is not their only concern.
According to Vu Trong Ry from the Viet Nam Institute of Educational Sciences, teaching is not as easy as most people think, saying that primary teachers work 1.5 times longer than the limit capped by the Government (40 hours per week), while the figures are 1.7 and 1.8 times higher for secondary and high school teachers.
"I often feel stressed with pressure from hard-to-please parents, stubborn students, difficult managers and society's high expectations," Giang complained.
Finding a job is also difficult. Two years after graduating, Giang had not been able to find a regular teaching position at a public school in her province, and was forced to take on a short-term contract at a private school that could end at anytime.
Low income, high pressure and the struggle to find a teaching position are enough to tire the most dedicated teachers.
In recent years, teaching has become less attractive, and a marked decrease in the number of university applicants for teaching courses has highlighted this. Entry standards have also been lowered in a bid to attract more applicants, leading to Dinh Quang Bao from the Teaching Study Institute to describe the situation as ‘pitiful'.
Obviously, if things remain unchanged there will be less well-qualified teachers, and education standards will slip. As one expert stressed: "We will not have good education without good teachers."
The Government is seemingly aware of the role teachers play in the development of high-quality education with the issuance of the Education Development Strategy for the 2011-20 period.
One point in the strategy said that incentive policies should be given to ensure adequate material and spiritual lives for teachers as a measure to attract talented people and encourage their devotion to the sector.
Something needs to be done to make that a reality. In any case, actions speak louder than words. We can't expect improvements if nothing is done to tackle the problem, according to Ry.
At the very least, teacher's incomes should be increased so they can dedicate their minds to teaching without having to worry about money. For teacher, a job should be more than an income. — VNS