3. Teacher Status Across Countries

Banner: The class of Global Teacher Prize Finalist Leah Juelke (USA)

Reading Between The Lines

What The World Really Thinks of Teachers



Why do teachers enjoy considerably higher or lower status in some countries than others? This is an important question in terms of determining what might be done to improve teacher status in countries where it is currently low. It is also important in terms of our efforts to understand how teacher status might affect student outcomes (particularly PISA scores). If some other factor (for example, education spending), strongly predicts teacher status and PISA scores, then perhaps it is this fact that explains why status scores and PISA attainment are linked, rather than a causal effect of teacher status.

There is a moderate correlation between what a country spends on education and the status of teachers in that country

Teacher status and educational indicators

In this section, we examine the relationship between teacher status and a variety of important education indicators. Because our previous analyses showed that our measure of implicit status was most closely associated with PISA, we focus on this measure for these analyses.

Unless otherwise stated, all educational indicators are taken from the World Bank Education Statistics database (EdStats) for the year 2018 or the most recent available previous year.

We begin by examining the relationship between teacher status and indicators of national wealth and education spending. It is plausible that teachers would enjoy higher status in richer countries that spend more on education. Figures 9 and 10 show that this is indeed the case, though the correlation in both cases is only moderate.

Figure 9

Scatterplot of mean Implicit Teacher Status score against GDP per capita

Figure 10

Scatterplot of mean Implicit Teacher Status score against the proportion of total government spending allocated to education

Figure 11

Scatterplot of mean Implicit Teacher Status against the proportion of secondary school pupils who are enrolled in privately run schools

In addition to national wealth and spending, the composition of the education system itself may affect the status of teachers. For example, teachers may be evaluated differently in education systems that are strongly dominated by the private rather than the public sector. Figure 11 plots the relationship between teacher status and the proportion of secondary school pupils who are enrolled in privately run institutions.[1] This shows that there is in fact no relationship between teacher status and the extent to which secondary schools are privately versus publicly run.

In terms of pupil characteristics, we also hypothesised that teachers may enjoy lower status in countries where the secondary education system is more strongly focused on vocational education. However, Figure 12 also shows that teacher status is not related to the fraction of secondary school students enrolled in vocational (as opposed to academic) programmes.

Finally, we hypothesised that, due to sexist attitudes, teachers may enjoy lower status in countries where the profession is more strongly dominated by women. Figure 13 shows that there is indeed a moderate negative correlation between teacher status and the proportion of secondary school teachers who are female.[2]

Figure 12

Scatterplot of mean implicit teacher status against the proportion of secondary school pupils enrolled in vocational programme

Figure 13

Scatterplot of mean Implicit Teacher Status against the proportion of secondary school teachers who are female

These results show that there are a number of factors which may be important predictors of Implicit Teacher Status, including national wealth, spending on education, and the gender composition of the teaching workforce. If these factors are also predictors of PISA attainment, they may therefore at least partly explain the link between the social status of teachers and performance in international standardised testing.

To account for this possibility, we first examined the relationship between each indicator and PISA scores. This showed that only GDP had a positive relationship with both teacher status and PISA scores. A subsequent linear regression model demonstrated that the relationship between Implicit Teacher Status and PISA scores was robust to adjustment for GDP per capita. As we show in the previous section, the association between Implicit Teacher Status and PISA scores is also not explained by teachers being paid more in countries where they are accorded higher status. 

Implicitly held beliefs about teachers are affected by national wealth, spending on education and the gender composition of the teaching workforce.

Teacher status and cultural values

In this section we take a different approach to examining cross-national variation in teacher status. Table 5 ranks all of the countries in the dataset by their scores on our three alternate measures of teacher status. A simple way to read this table is to pick a specific country and examine its rank in each ordering. For example, consider China. Reading across the columns we see that China is ranked in the top three for all of our status measures. By contrast, Israel is in the bottom four for all three measures.

Doing this repeatedly for each country we can see that there is a high degree of concordance between the rankings (as would be suggested by the high degree of correlation we observed in a previous section).

Table 5. Ranking countries by our three measures of teacher status

Asian countriesSouth American countries
  Rank (Primary) Rank (Secondary) Rank (Head) Implicit status Explicit status
1 China China Malaysia China Indonesia Rank (Primary): China Rank (Secondary): China Rank (Head): Malaysia Implicit status: China Explicit status: Indonesia
2 Turkey Malaysia Indonesia Ghana China Rank (Primary): Turkey Rank (Secondary): Malaysia Rank (Head): Indonesia Implicit status: Ghana Explicit status: China
3 Malaysia Taiwan China Singapore India Rank (Primary): Malaysia Rank (Secondary): Taiwan Rank (Head): China Implicit status: Singapore Explicit status: India
4 Korea Indonesia India Canada Uganda Rank (Primary): Korea Rank (Secondary): Indonesia Rank (Head): India Implicit status: Canada Explicit status: Uganda
5 Indonesia Korea Finland Malaysia Ghana Rank (Primary): Indonesia Rank (Secondary): Korea Rank (Head): Finland Implicit status: Malaysia Explicit status: Ghana
6 Taiwan Turkey Russia India Singapore Rank (Primary): Taiwan Rank (Secondary): Turkey Rank (Head): Russia Implicit status: India Explicit status: Singapore
7 UK India Czech Republic USA Malaysia Rank (Primary): UK Rank (Secondary): India Rank (Head): Czech Republic Implicit status: USA Explicit status: Malaysia
8 Russia Greece Korea Taiwan Taiwan Rank (Primary): Russia Rank (Secondary): Greece Rank (Head): Korea Implicit status: Taiwan Explicit status: Taiwan
9 India Singapore UK Indonesia USA Rank (Primary): India Rank (Secondary): Singapore Rank (Head): UK Implicit status: Indonesia Explicit status: USA
10 Greece Russia Greece Switzerland Canada Rank (Primary): Greece Rank (Secondary): Russia Rank (Head): Greece Implicit status: Switzerland Explicit status: Canada
11 Canada Switzerland Singapore Uganda New Zealand Rank (Primary): Canada Rank (Secondary): Switzerland Rank (Head): Singapore Implicit status: Uganda Explicit status: New Zealand
12 New Zealand Germany Uganda UK Colombia Rank (Primary): New Zealand Rank (Secondary): Germany Rank (Head): Uganda Implicit status: UK Explicit status: Colombia
13 France UK Italy Finland Turkey Rank (Primary): France Rank (Secondary): UK Rank (Head): Italy Implicit status: Finland Explicit status: Turkey
14 Panama Canada France Netherlands Netherlands Rank (Primary): Panama Rank (Secondary): Canada Rank (Head): France Implicit status: Netherlands Explicit status: Netherlands
15 USA Egypt Japan New Zealand Finland Rank (Primary): USA Rank (Secondary): Egypt Rank (Head): Japan Implicit status: New Zealand Explicit status: Finland
16 Singapore Finland Germany France Russia Rank (Primary): Singapore Rank (Secondary): Finland Rank (Head): Germany Implicit status: France Explicit status: Russia
17 Finland New Zealand Switzerland Korea Chile Rank (Primary): Finland Rank (Secondary): New Zealand Rank (Head): Switzerland Implicit status: Korea Explicit status: Chile
18 Switzerland Panama Turkey Turkey Switzerland Rank (Primary): Switzerland Rank (Secondary): Panama Rank (Head): Turkey Implicit status: Turkey Explicit status: Switzerland
19 Japan Hungary Portugal Germany Korea Rank (Primary): Japan Rank (Secondary): Hungary Rank (Head): Portugal Implicit status: Germany Explicit status: Korea
20 Spain France New Zealand Portugal Spain Rank (Primary): Spain Rank (Secondary): France Rank (Head): New Zealand Implicit status: Portugal Explicit status: Spain
21 Egypt Czech Republic Egypt Japan UK Rank (Primary): Egypt Rank (Secondary): Czech Republic Rank (Head): Egypt Implicit status: Japan Explicit status: UK
22 Chile Japan Israel Czech Republic France Rank (Primary): Chile Rank (Secondary): Japan Rank (Head): Israel Implicit status: Czech Republic Explicit status: France
23 Colombia Netherlands Colombia Russia Brazil Rank (Primary): Colombia Rank (Secondary): Netherlands Rank (Head): Colombia Implicit status: Russia Explicit status: Brazil
24 Peru USA Canada Italy Peru Rank (Primary): Peru Rank (Secondary): USA Rank (Head): Canada Implicit status: Italy Explicit status: Peru
25 Portugal Spain Netherlands Brazil Japan Rank (Primary): Portugal Rank (Secondary): Spain Rank (Head): Netherlands Implicit status: Brazil Explicit status: Japan
26 Germany Chile Panama Colombia Panama Rank (Primary): Germany Rank (Secondary): Chile Rank (Head): Panama Implicit status: Colombia Explicit status: Panama
27 Netherlands Peru Chile Chile Portugal Rank (Primary): Netherlands Rank (Secondary): Peru Rank (Head): Chile Implicit status: Chile Explicit status: Portugal
28 Argentina Colombia Spain Spain Argentina Rank (Primary): Argentina Rank (Secondary): Colombia Rank (Head): Spain Implicit status: Spain Explicit status: Argentina
29 Hungary Portugal Argentina Panama Hungary Rank (Primary): Hungary Rank (Secondary): Portugal Rank (Head): Argentina Implicit status: Panama Explicit status: Hungary
30 Czech Republic Uganda USA Argentina Italy Rank (Primary): Czech Republic Rank (Secondary): Uganda Rank (Head): USA Implicit status: Argentina Explicit status: Italy
31 Italy Italy Peru Hungary Egypt Rank (Primary): Italy Rank (Secondary): Italy Rank (Head): Peru Implicit status: Hungary Explicit status: Egypt
32 Israel Argentina Taiwan Greece Germany Rank (Primary): Israel Rank (Secondary): Argentina Rank (Head): Taiwan Implicit status: Greece Explicit status: Germany
33 Brazil Ghana Ghana Egypt Czech Republic Rank (Primary): Brazil Rank (Secondary): Ghana Rank (Head): Ghana Implicit status: Egypt Explicit status: Czech Republic
34 Uganda Israel Hungary Peru Greece Rank (Primary): Uganda Rank (Secondary): Israel Rank (Head): Hungary Implicit status: Peru Explicit status: Greece
35 Ghana Brazil Brazil Israel Israel Rank (Primary): Ghana Rank (Secondary): Brazil Rank (Head): Brazil Implicit status: Israel Explicit status: Israel

A notable facet of this table is that countries on the same continent tend to be grouped together. This is particularly clear for the Asian countries (marked in red), which consistently appear near the top of the table. It is also apparent that the South American countries (marked in green) often (though slightly less consistently) appear in the bottom half of the table. This geographical clustering suggests that there may be common cultural factors which explain differences in teacher status. This is of course not to suggest that all Asian or South American countries share a common culture, but merely that countries which are closer together geographically also tend to be more similar in terms of cultural exchanges, languages and a shared history.

We explored this possibility by examining the association between teacher status and a variety of cultural values captured by the 2010-2014 World Values Survey (the most recently collected data).[3] We found that, in general, Implicit Teacher Status was not closely correlated with indicators of individualism (the extent to which people in the country valued personal wealth and achievement versus helping others) or with the proportion of a country’s population who felt that obedience versus self-expression was a quality that should be encouraged in children. However, we found that Implicit Teacher Status was moderately negatively correlated (a correlation coefficient of -0.34) with an indicator of the extent of respect for authority (the proportion of the population who believed that “greater respect for authority” would be a positive development). This suggests that in countries where respect for authority is more highly valued, teacher status is lower.[4] Although there is the odd exception these results were broadly consistent for our other two measures of teacher status (explicit and ranking).

Teacher status may be strongly determined by culture – it may be part of a broader cluster of beliefs and attitudes concerning the value of education.

Based on the geographical clustering of teacher status, our analysis suggests that teacher status may be strongly culturally determined. However, it does not appear to be strongly predicted by other plausibly related cultural values such as individualism. Instead, it is possible that teacher status is part of a broader cluster of attitudes and beliefs concerning the value of education.

[1] Note that schools which depend on government funding but are otherwise managed by private institutions (such as academy schools in England) are considered “privately run institutions” for the purposes of calculating this figure.

[2] In this figure, data for Japan, Canada, and Israel are taken from the OECD Education at a Glance database. For Canada, the figure for ‘Upper Secondary’ is taken to represent secondary education as a whole.

[3] Full details of the variables used in this analysis are given in the Technical Appendix.

[4] This correlation is only moderate so there are a number of exceptions, for example China.