21st Century Education

How much is a good teacher worth?

Jan 26,2023

If you had unlimited resources to make one investment to improve Thai society, what would you do? Build 1,000 state-of-the-art hospitals? An underground, high-speed rail system to connect all corners of the country? Perhaps you’re worried about education and would ensure that every student has access to the new wave of technology sweeping the world.

Let your creativity run wild. It’s a fun thought experiment, and there is no “correct” answer. In reality, however, we have limited resources, competing needs, and only so much time. Given our constraints, we have to be smart about how we deploy scarce resources. If we want to develop a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous society, what should we do?

Thai education

Well, data tells us that there may not be a more valuable investment than investing in our teachers. In a landmark study in the United States, economists from Harvard University and Columbia University tracked the outcomes of 2.5 million 4th-8th grade students over two decades and uncovered some eye-opening results. The key takeaway is that quality teachers have a huge impact on the lives of students.

For example, students who have a great teacher (defined as the top 5% of value added on standardized tests) for a single year will earn $50,000 (1,532,000 THB) more in their lifetime compared to students who have an average teacher. Similarly, if an average teacher replaces an ineffective teacher (bottom 5%), the cumulative lifetime earnings for a single class will rise by $1.4 million (42.9 million THB). When you extrapolate these numbers over the course of a teacher’s entire career, we’re talking tens of millions of dollars in economic value – from ONE teacher!

The results of the study demonstrate that teachers moving from ineffective to average, from average to good, and good to great can have a transformative impact on society. Of course, enabling teachers to take these steps doesn’t happen magically – it requires a concerted effort and sustained investment.

A mistake many make is assuming that teachers are finished products when they enter the workforce. This is untrue. Teachers, like all professionals, need to continue honing their skills, adapting to technological change, and growing their expertise of the subject they teach. As such, to improve education in Thailand and reap the enormous benefits that come from a well-educated society, we must provide our teachers with high-quality professional development opportunities. This is particularly true for teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, because these fields are shaping the world that today’s students will work in.

We all recognize that Thai education needs to improve, and many socially conscious individuals and companies make investments to help. These investments come in many forms – scholarships, new equipment, facility upgrades, and so on – which can be beneficial, to be sure; however, we know that no in-school factor affects student outcomes as much as teachers. At the end of the day, no matter how nice the laboratory equipment is, students won’t learn unless they have a teacher who knows how to deliver an effective lesson. A Bunsen burner, after all, doesn’t know chemistry.

Returning to the original question, I would guess that supporting teachers wasn’t the first thought that popped into your mind, but it may well provide the greatest long-term benefit to society. Best of all, providing a teacher with high-quality professional development doesn’t cost a fortune, yet has the potential to generate north of a million dollars in future earnings for every class that that teacher teaches. Talk about an ROI!

Thank you for reading my latest blog. If you are interested in learning more about how your you or company can support Kenan’s professional development program for Thai teachers, contact us at info@Kenan-asia.org

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