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Journal Issue: Excellence in the Classroom Volume 17 Number 1 Spring 2007

Teacher Labor Markets in Developing Countries
Emiliana Vegas

Summary

Emiliana Vegas surveys strategies used by the world’s developing countries to fill their classrooms with qualified teachers. With their low quality of education and wide gaps in student outcomes, schools in developing countries strongly resemble hard-to-staff urban U.S. schools. Their experience with reform may thus provide insights for U.S. policymakers.

Severe budget constraints and a lack of teacher training capacity have pushed developing nations to try a wide variety of reforms, including using part-time or assistant teachers, experimenting with pay incentives, and using school-based management.

The strategy of hiring teachers with less than full credentials has had mixed results. One successful program in India hired young women who lacked teaching certificates to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills to children whose skills were seriously lagging. After two years, student learning increased, with the highest gains among the least able students.

As in the United States, says Vegas, teaching quality and student achievement in the developing world are sensitive to teacher compensation. As average teacher salaries in Chile more than doubled over the past decade, higher-quality students entered teacher education programs. And when Brazil increased educational funding and distributed resources more equitably, school enrollment increased and the gap in student test scores narrowed. Experiments with performance-based pay have had mixed results. In Bolivia a bonus for teaching in rural areas failed to produce higher-quality teachers. And in Mexico a system to reward teachers for improved student outcomes failed to change teacher performance. But Vegas explains that the design of teacher incentives is critical. Effective incentive schemes must be tightly coupled with desired behaviors and generous enough to give teachers a reason to make the extra effort.

School-based management reforms give decisionmaking authority to the schools. Such reforms in Central America have reduced teacher absenteeism, increased teacher work hours, increased homework assignments, and improved parent-teacher relationships. These changes, says Vegas, are especially promising in schools where educational quality is low.