In Nicaragua, teachers make only half as much as market vendors
Nicaragua's Sandinista government vowed a 'battle for sixth grade' to combat one of the world's highest dropout rates. But their goals are not reflected in the budget.
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Mr. Ortega decreed education free for all, deployed a nationwide literacy campaign, and valiantly declared a “battle for sixth grade” – an important goal in a country that has one of the highest dropout rates and lowest high-school enrollments in the world.
But when it comes to paying the bill for education, the government hasn’t followed through, analysts say, and as a result education is not improving. Not only are textbooks and classrooms outdated, but standards for college admissions are falling and educators are amongst the most underpaid professionals in the country. And the low wages promised to teachers, some say, is telling of the government's true commitment to improving education.
“The glass ceiling for the quality of education is the quality of teachers. And there is no way to attract better and more qualified teachers to the profession if people can earn twice as much doing just about any other job,” says Adolfo Acevedo, an economist with the Civil Coordinator public policy and activist group.
National salaries 'biased against teachers'
“The national salary structure’s bias against teachers is overwhelming,” Mr. Acevedo says.
Not only are Nicaraguan teachers the worst paid in Central America, but they’re also among the worst paid professionals in Nicaragua. In real wage terms, an average public school teacher in Nicaragua earns less than 60 percent of the average wages for other jobs, and only half of what it costs to provide the canasta basica, a list of 56 basic food and household items needed to support an average family.
Teachers in Nicaragua earn less than miners, factory workers, construction workers, and government functionaries who stand in traffic rotundas waving Sandinista flags at passing cars, according to a comparative study on real purchasing power, Acevedo says. Most teachers earn only half as much as a market vendor.
“The average teacher is either living in poverty or right on the verge,” Sandinista analyst Oscar Rene Vargas says.
Teachers in Nicaragua earn around $185 to $226 a month, according to estimates by Acevedo and José Antonio Zepeda, president of the National Confederation of Nicaraguan Education Workers (ANDEN).
“Despite the continuous salary increases over the past six years – representing a total of 140 percent in wage increases – teachers still don’t earn enough to meet the costs of the canasta basica,” Zepeda said.
This is because any salary increase on paper has been virtually cancelled out by inflation and the increases to costs of living, says Acevedo.
“The salary increase projected for teachers in 2012 is 9 percent, but inflation is projected to be 7.95 percent,” he says. If projections are correct, the real increase in teacher salaries will be 1.05 percent. “At that rate of growth, teachers will need to wait 65 years for their salaries to catch up with the average national salary,” Acevedo says.
Actions speaking louder than words
“The deficit in education spending is not a problem that started with this government, but this government has not changed the tendency of underfunding,” says Mr. Vargas. “The situation is stagnant.”