No one can doubt the value of teachers to any society – inspiring and enabling each new generation to dream and aspire, they are the vital architects of a nation’s future.
Yet the sight of teachers abandoning their classrooms on Thursday to take to the streets of Amman in their thousands in pursuit of a living wage suggests that this vital lesson is one that Jordan’s government would do well to remember.
Five years ago the government promised teachers a 50 per cent pay rise, which would have gone some way to easing their financial plight, but it has never materialised.
“We’re here because we cannot afford to live on the low salary teachers in Jordan are paid, [especially] when we have to pay such high living costs,” Faisal Al Zubi, a substitute teacher who was protesting, told The National.
Many educators like Mr Al Zubi, who has a degree in electrical engineering, are overqualified for their teaching jobs. And with overall unemployment in Jordan at nearly 20 per cent, the number of job-seeking educators far exceeds demand, leaving teachers poorly remunerated as a result.
Their woes are a direct consequence of the state of Jordan’s economy. Between 2011 and 2016 the national debt rose from about 60 per cent to more than 90 per cent of the GDP. Jordan has had to rely on substantial foreign aid from the US and Gulf countries. The kingdom also took a $723 million loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2016 and since then, the government has worked hard to meet its recommendations. That has meant implementing several rounds of unpopular austerity measures, which sparked protests last summer and led to the demise of former prime minister Hani Al Mulki.
Jordan is not the only country in the region that has found itself stuck at this impasse. In May, teachers at the Lebanese University in Beirut – the country’s only public university – went on strike for several months to protest this year’s budget, described by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as the “most austere in Lebanon’s history”. And in the West Bank, more than 25,000 teachers went on strike for a month in February over pay and benefits.
Financial mismanagement, and in some instances outright corruption, in these countries has only made a bad situation worse but educators must not be made to pay the price of economic mismanagement. A lack of funds, economic mismanagement, endemic corruption and an overall sluggish economy has stopped many teachers from receiving the pay they deserve, despite their qualifications. But to neglect the basic needs of teachers is to sabotage the nation’s future.
Jordan’s teachers have been in dire straits for years, existing on salaries that have failed to keep pace with the rising cost of living. Many of them are graduates with a range of skills for which the nation’s battered economy has no outlet. Forced to abandon their own dreams, they have been failed by a system that doesn't meet their basic needs. Having turned to teaching in the hope, at least, of inspiring future generations, their role must be recognised.