High time teachers got better pay, working conditions: conference

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Teachers are badly underpaid and current recruitment practices do not favor quality, experts reiterated as they picked apart several lacunae in policies toward educators in a conference in Hanoi Monday.

The conference, organized by the Ministry of Education and Training in Hanoi, is part of preparations for developing the nation's first ever law on teachers.

Education is one of the nine sectors with average incomes lower than the national average, said Trinh Thang Manh, head of the Educational Labor Union's Policy - Society Department.

In fact, teachers' salaries are still very low at just VND2.5 million (US$138.90) for a university lecturer per month, and VND1.6 million ($88.90) for a kindergarten teacher, deputy Tran Thi Quoc Khanh informed a National Assembly session early this month.

A good salary can help guarantee teachers' living standards, preventing them from engaging in unethical behavior, including accepting bribes, Manh said. Inadequate salaries are the root cause for several negative developments in the field of education, he added.

Vu Van Du, former head of the Teachers Department under MoET, also backed Manh, saying low salaries can discourage teachers from doing their jobs properly.

Conference participants also urged policymakers to pay teachers long-term service allowances.

Le Phuoc Long, head of Quang Tri Province's Department of Education and Training, said it's hard for teachers to earn outside income, which prevents their families from enjoying a reasonable standard of living.

"If education is considered a leading national priority, increasing teachers' salary is a must. It's necessary that teachers who have worked for a long time be given allowances as encouragement," Long said.

To make matters worse for the teachers, they also have to work in disadvantaged environments, said Manh.

For example, an academic council estimates that only 40 percent of 360 professors and 1,100 associate professors have their own working rooms, mainly because they are also serving the school's management. Most of them, moreover, are not provided with fees to buy books and journals for their research.

Another concern of conference participants was that every year in other parts of the country teachers are assigned on temporary loan to schools to deal with the dearth of staff in certain areas.

They said it's a long-standing practice that after being assigned to disadvantaged areas, many teachers find it hard to come back, because their schools are already fully manned and don't want to admit more staff.

As many teachers, in fact, have worked in mountainous and distant areas for between 10 and 20 years, Doan Thi Cong Minh, vice director of Hai Duong Province's Department of Education and Training, urged the passage of a law saying these teachers be transferred to more advantaged areas.

The ministry is planning a regulation that each teacher transferred to work in disadvantaged areas will only be required to work there for a maximum of five years.

"It's certain that everyone here will be worried about their children whenever they are going on a business trip for one week. Teachers, meanwhile, have to be apart from their family for many years, working among mountains and forests for very low pay," said Long.

He suggested teachers working in disadvantaged areas are paid salaries that are 2.5 to 3 times higher than normal.

Recruitment fallacies

Provincial officials said at the conference that changes should also be effected in recruitment of teachers towards improving the quality of a school's faculty.

Minh, from the northern province of Hai Duong, said schools should be given the right to recruit teachers by themselves instead of admitting teachers employed by educational departments.

Citing successful examples from her province which has let schools do their own recruitment for over the past five years, Minh said this process should be made legal.

Another way to improve teachers' quality, according to Long, is to remove the so-called "permanent employment" category and replace it with "long-term contract employment."

In Vietnam, after working for a certain number of years or making valuable contributions to their schools, teachers will be considered to be in "permanent employment," akin to academic tenure in the US, meaning that they will enjoy higher salaries and allowances than those working under contract.

The permanent staff can work until their retirement without fear of getting laid off.

Experts have long criticized this situation, saying many unprofessional teachers are made "permanent teachers" for this or that reason, affecting their school's teaching quality in general.

Instead, everyone should be recruited under long-term contracts with the same benefits of "permanent teachers," but they should be subject to penalties including losing their jobs for poor performance, Long said.

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