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Money is Not the Solution

Earlier today, I was looking for a friend at my alma mater when I suddenly found my underdressed self at a formal, invitation-only event honoring some recipients of the Metrobank Foundation's annual Search for Outstanding Teachers. When I learned that I personally knew the two main honorees—Ambeth Ocampo and Benilda Santos—I thought, what the heck, maybe they'll overlook my shirt-jeans-and-sneakers getup and appreciate my presence at this special event. So I went in and marveled once more at just how lucky I've been to have been taught by so many outstanding teachers.

But the most striking thing that I brought home with me was the reference made by the university president to a recent article about a McKinsey study that shows it is not money that leads to better schools. I, of course, made a mental note to look for the article. The following quotes are from "How to be top" (Economist, 13 October 2007):

Australia has almost tripled education spending per student since 1970. No improvement. American spending has almost doubled since 1980 and class sizes are the lowest ever. Again, nothing. No matter what you do, it seems, standards refuse to budge.

Schools... need to do three things: get the best teachers; get the best out of teachers; and step in when pupils start to lag behind.

Begin with hiring the best. There is no question that, as one South Korean official put it, "the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." Studies in Tennessee and Dallas have shown that, if you take pupils of average ability and give them to teachers deemed in the top fifth of the profession, they end up in the top 10% of student performers; if you give them to teachers from the bottom fifth, they end up at the bottom. The quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else.

You might think that schools should offer as much money as possible, seek to attract a large pool of applicants into teacher training and then pick the best. Not so, says McKinsey. If money were so important, then countries with the highest teacher salaries—Germany, Spain and Switzerland—would presumably be among the best. They aren't. In practice, the top performers pay no more than average salaries.

Scratch a teacher or an administrator (or a parent), and you often hear that it is impossible to get the best teachers without paying big salaries... McKinsey's conclusions seem more optimistic: getting good teachers depends on how you select and train them; teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune; and that, with the right policies, schools and pupils are not doomed to lag behind.
What has this got to do with the Philippine situation, especially libraries? Read the passages again, but this time substitute the word "librarian" for "teacher" and "librarianship" for teaching, particularly in the last two paragraphs. As I have written before in "Librarians as Leaders," "I am not saying that money is not important... two individuals given similar amounts of money will not necessarily achieve similar goals." This is not rocket science. This is so old, there's even a parable in the Bible about it. Enough of the excuses. Let's get to work.

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