Considering merit in the Middle East

Rewarding teachers based on their skill and performance may be a contentious issue in the United States, but in Afghanistan it’s seen as a recruiting tool. This week, 42,000 teachers sat for a nationwide exam intended to inform pay raises based on competency. Currently, teacher salaries are so low that most teachers are forced to work a second job, and that means the job isn’t attractive to educated professionals. Hence only one in four current Afghani teachers went beyond high school. But tying pay to intellectual prowess and accomplishment is more than just a carrot for talent. The government also hopes to attract international aid. One reason today’s salaries are so low is because the government is out of cash to pay them and international aid groups are wary of putting up funds without knowing anything about the skill of the country’s educators. Officials hope greater transparency about those skills will help to attract dollars, Euros, yen, etc. The importance of education in worn-torn countries has been a reoccurring theme. Greg Mortenson’s school-building work in Pakistan (chronicled in Three Cups of Tea) hopes to offer an alternative to politicized madrassas. Afghanistan, too, needs better education than it can presently deliver. Let’s hope the current move succeeds on all fronts.

Big test for Afghanistan education,” by Ben Arnoldy, The Christian Science Monitor, November 13, 2009

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