21 February 2007

Is it worth it for a China-bound teacher to get an MA?

A teacher commented: "Re Market forces - they should play a part, give the tremendous shortage of qualified teachers (not just language teachers) worldwide, but do not seem to have led to an increase in pay and conditions."

A backpacker just getting off the plane from his last stop in Thailand, if he has some people skills, may be able to land a job at a university for 4000 Rmb/month. (About US$550.) A teacher with a certificate, applying at the same university, would probably get 4500/month. If the teacher had an MA he may get 5000/month and with a PhD would probably get 5500/month.

There would not be a big difference in their job descriptions. The teacher with the PhD would not be a consultant to the school designing courses or advising the school on coursebooks and curriculum. It is likely that he would be facing large classrooms of students and correcting stacks of papers.

I figured once that it could take several years to pay off an MA based on the small amount of extra pay an MA would bring. So I think one problem is the lack of appreciation for highly skilled teachers. Consequently, it could be career suicide for a highly qualified teacher to work in China unless he wished to do it for the experience.

Another problem is teachers who studied an MA just for the paper and the higher salary it should bring. We had one list member who acquired an MA and wrote on this list constantly about the low rates of pay for teachers with higher qualifications. However, he never got involved with discussions on teaching problems, student motivation, methodologies, etc. In the mind of many teachers the paper should equal pay.

Because the professional environment for foreign teachers is not refined here in China, I've considered it a field for roughnecks. The teachers here are sort of like pioneers. More refined teachers who are very serious about their academic careers are still in their home countries or in foreign countries that promise higher pay and academic prestige and security.

Many people forget how fast China has developed, that it has quadrupled its university enrollment in about ten years or something. But as China gets on top of the situation, improves the professional environment, higher academic qualifications will be required and more career teachers will move to China. The roughnecks will have to upgrade their skills or move on to the next challenging field that no one else wants to go to.

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