In order to find out, consumer research company Value Champion compiled data on the average income of secondary and high school teachers in 14 Asian countries (plus the US and France for comparison with western countries) compared to each country’s GDP per capita.
In most countries, teachers earn incomes that approximately equal their country's GDP per capita.
In some countries like Korea, Thailand, India and Japan, teachers earned up to 175% of their country's GDP per capita, signalling that they earn more than an average person.
In some other countries like Vietnam, China and Singapore, teachers earned 70-80% of their country's GDP per capita, signalling that they earn less than an average person.
Korea, infamous for its education craze that sometimes makes teenagers spend 15 hours or more per day studying, seems to be paying the most to its teachers compared to other countries in Asia. Studies estimate that an average high school teacher makes about KRW65 million per year (roughly US$55k), which is 175% of the country's GDP per capita.
However, this high level of teacher income may not necessarily be related to the country's heavy emphasis on education. In fact, a big chunk of students' time is actually spent out of school at extra curricular classes at cram schools (known as hagwons) or with private tutors.
Instead, it seems like teachers get paid a lot because they are public servants. A recent documentary shed light on how public servants in Korea earn very high incomes and also enjoy solid job security.
According to sites like Indeed, Glassdoor and Payscale, teachers in India make about US$3.5k to US$5k per year on average, while teachers at public schools (i.e. government teachers) earn more at around US$8,000 per annum. While this may sound low compared to other countries, it's actually about 173% ofthe country's GDP per capita.
India's economy has been heavily reliant on upgrading its labour base to knowledge workers, and perhaps this high teacher income reflects the country's efforts to invest in its population's education.
However, the average may be inflated due to government teaching jobs, as there have been many reports of heavily underpaid teachers in India's private education sector that employs about 43% of the teachers in the country.
Thailand ranked third in the study in terms of paying the most to its teachers. According to Glassdoor & Payscale, teachers in Thailand earned about US$12,000 per year, roughly 165% of the country's GDP per capita. This finding is also consistent with UNESCO's finding in 2011, which found that teacher income was 2.6x higher than the nation's GDP per capita.
Thailand has had a series of education reform in the past decade, and this high teacher pay may reflect some of that effort. However, according to UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring Report, Thailand's education system still faces some major challenges, such a 85% completion rate for lower secondary education.
Vietnam ranked at the bottom of the study. Even its experienced teachers earned about US$1,800 per year on average, which is about 70% of the country's GDP per capita.
According to news reports, underpaid teachers have been a problem in the country, where 40% of teachers said they would choose a different career if they had the chance. This is reportedly also leading to lower enrollment standards for teaching schools as well, possibly leading to a vicious cycle.
Despite China's success in academia (China often ranks top in the world in maths and science competitions), its teachers seem to be earning about 76% of the country's GDP per capita.
While teachers in China are paid similarly to other public servants, there actually has been some discrepancy in the two professions' payout structure in recent years, causing uproar and protests from some teachers.
Singapore was perhaps one of the most surprising parts of the study. While Singaporeans are known for both their enthusiasm for and success in education (Singapore spends 20% of its public spending on education and regularly tops the world ranking in various education related awards and metrics), their teachers earn approximately 80% of the country's GDP per capita.
Still, they are earning a relatively high income of US$50,331 on average, according to Varkey Foundation's Global Teacher Status Index 2018. In fact, this rivals the highest levels around the world in terms of pure dollar amount, and suggests that the low teacher income to GDP per capita ratio is a result of high productivity of the economy as a whole.
Read the original study here.