How Much Should Governments Spend on Teachers? With Contributions from Lee Crawfurd, Alexis Le Nestour, David Evans, Amina Acosta, Tessa Bold, and Esme Kadzamira.

Note: This blog post is part of a series in which CGD experts present arguments from “Schooling for All: Feasible Strategies to Achieve Universal Education” and invite (sometimes dissenting) commentary from experts within the global education community.

Lee Crawfurd and Alexis Le Nestour: “The effects of both raising teacher pay and reducing class sizes are small; the scope to increase access without reducing quality is big.”

“More than half of all education spending goes on teacher salaries, so it is critical to consider how these funds are spent. In this chapter, we review the evidence on whether paying teachers more or hiring more teachers improves learning outcomes for students. Observed changes in teacher pay and class sizes have had little effect on student learning in low- and middle-income countries. This includes quasi-experimental evidence on salaries from Indonesia, Peru, and Zambia, and on class size from Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Kenya, India, and Uganda. Spending more on teachers seems more likely to raise student learning in richer countries, where teachers are better managed and supported. In the absence of effective management and support, increasing teacher pay seems unlikely to have large effects on increasing enrollment and learning. Allowing class sizes to rise may even be a low-cost way to increase student enrollment and time in school, with little deterioration in average learning levels. While additional spending on staffing is unlikely to improve learning for existing students, spending on new teachers will be necessary in most countries that still need to expand fullt-ime enrollment to more students.”

A graph showing how teacher pay can effect learning for students.

Read Lee Crawfurd and Alexis Le Nestour’s full chapter.

David Evans and Amina Acosta: “While teacher pay or class size may not be binding constraints in many settings, there are schools where just getting enough staff to function is a challenge.”

“Much of the evidence in this chapter suggests that blanket increases in teacher salaries or hiring new teachers to reduce class sizes are unlikely to result in large, immediate gains in student learning. Teacher salaries already make up the bulk of education spending. But one expansion of teacher spending that may be unavoidable includes benefits—whether financial or in-kind, such as housing—if education systems expect to provide basic education for every child.”

Read David Evans and Amina Acosta’s box in the report.

Tessa Bold: “It’s probably premature to conclude that teacher pay or class size doesn’t matter”

“[Crawfurd and Le Nestour] conclude that class size and teacher pay can improve outcomes more substantially, but only if good systems of assessment and teacher management are in place. While this seems obvious, it is not clear to me how this follows from the evidence presented in the chapter. 

“From the class size effects, I did not get the sense that there is a strong relationship between assessment systems and class size effects, and even if this were the case, it is not possible to conclude from this that there are class size effects only if good systems of assessment and teacher management are in place. I am now wondering whether something is missing in the class size subsection; it seems the authors refer in the conclusions to results that have been established there, but that do not appear in the chapter. 

“Coming back to the opening statement ‘the scope to increase access without reducing quality is big.’ Yes, perhaps, bearing in mind that status quo levels of education quality in many countries are simply very low.”

Read Tessa Bold’s full commentary.

Esme Kadzamira: “Teacher allocation and teaching methods matter as much as class size and pay levels”

“The authors observe that “for a given level of income per capita, countries paying their teachers more do not achieve better results.” This observation is particularly true in low-income countries because other than pay there are other equally important non-pecuniary factors that demotivate teachers and make them less likely to deliver. These include restricted career structure, lack of promotion opportunities, and unconducive work environment.” 


“On teacher deployment, a recent study carried out in Malawi found that deployment of primary school teachers was inequitable both between schools and within schools. One of the factors contributing to this was political interference in matters relating to teacher management (Zubairi, 2020).”


“Evidence on the impact of teacher pay and class size on student learning outcomes is mixed. A synthesis of the evidence, however, suggests that teacher pay is a necessary but not sufficient condition in raising student outcomes. Effective teacher management has been found to be a critical factor that impacts positively on students' learning. This suggests that in low-income countries such as Malawi, which have ineffective teacher management systems, increasing teachers’ pay will unlikely lead to any significant improvements in students' learning.”

Read Esme Kadzamira’s full commentary.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.