What students don’t want to be when they grow up

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Education and Skills Directorate

Who wants to be a teacher? As this month’s PISA in Focus shows, in many countries the teaching profession is having a hard time making itself an attractive career choice – particularly among boys and among the highest-performing students.

PISA 2006 asked students from the 60 participating countries and economies what occupation they expected to be working in when they are 30 years old. Some 44% of 15-year-olds in OECD countries reported that they expect to work in high-status occupations that generally require a university degree; but only 5% of those students reported that they expect to work as teachers, one of those professional careers.

The numbers are even more revealing when considering the profile of the students who reported that they expect to work as teachers. If you read our report on gender equality in education published earlier this year, you may remember that girls tend to favour “nurturance-oriented” careers more than boys do – and teaching is one of those careers. In almost every OECD country, more girls (6%) than boys (3%) reported that they expect to work as teachers. This statistic is particularly worrying when you recall that the majority of overall low achievers in school are boys, who could benefit from the presence of more male role models at school.

PISA in Focus also reveals that the highest-performing students in reading and mathematics do not necessarily aim to become teachers. For example, in Argentina, Australia, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal and Turkey, students who aspire to become teachers score significantly lower in reading and mathematics than students who expect to work in professions other than teaching.

While PISA can’t follow these students into adulthood, the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) gathers information on the literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills of adults. The 2012 survey found that, in many countries, teachers have poorer literacy and, in particular, poorer numeracy skills than individuals who work in other professions. In Japan, however, not only do teachers have the highest numeracy skills among teachers working in all other countries that participated in the survey, they are also as proficient in numeracy as Japanese adults who work in other professions.

But maybe in this instance, as in so many others, it would be wise to “follow the money”. According to Education at a Glance, teachers earn significantly less, on average, than similar educated workers in other fields earn. For example, lower secondary teachers earn 86% and upper secondary teachers earn 91% of what tertiary-educated full-time workers in other fields earn. Which is not to say that students are only concerned about the size of their prospective bank accounts; in fact, many 15-year-olds probably don’t know how much their teachers earn. But pay is often a reflection of how socially valued different jobs are. Adolescents might be more inclined to aspire to become teachers if they see that their own teachers are highly valued members of society.

Photo credit: Question mark on green blackboard / chalkboard. Nice chalk and texture @Shutterstock

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