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Populus research unveils global perceptions of teaching

The Varkey Foundation is a global charitable foundation focused on improving the standards of education for underprivileged children.

Analysis led by Professor Peter Dolton of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research examined perceptions of teachers around various aspects such as respect, the perception of the teaching profession as a sought after career, contextual understanding of teachers’ social status, and views on pupil respect for teachers. The Varkey Foundation was then able to develop the Global Teacher Status Index 2018 an index of teacher status by country.

The research included Populus’s proprietary implicit response test which sought to understand underlying associations with teachers that people may find difficult to accurately articulate if asked directly.  Based on the principles of behavioural economics and system 1/system 2 thinking, this timed test asked respondents to pick which word from a pair of adjectives they most associated with the teaching profession in their country.  The analysis takes into account not only the option chosen, but also the speed at which the choice was made.  This methodology enabled Prof. Peter Dolton to identify countries in which teachers are viewed as lower status within an implicit test compared to when respondents were explicitly asked status of teachers, therefore pinpointing an underlying sentiment of lower teacher status in that country.

However, overall the research suggests that teacher status is rising globally. Populus had conducted this same research in 2013, looking at teacher status across the world across 21 countries. This year, Populus surveyed teacher status across 35 countries. Of the 21 countries polled in 2013 and again in 2018, 13 have seen their teacher status score increase, while 7 have seen it fall. The biggest increases were seen in Japan and Switzerland while the biggest drops were seen in Greece and Egypt.

Figure 2.1 from The Varkey Global Status Index 2018

Asian Nations Rank Higher in Terms of Teacher Status

Out of the 35 countries polled in 2018, the Asian nations of China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Korea and India rank higher in terms of teacher status than every European country and every Western nation – including the US, New Zealand and Canada.

China showed the highest score for teacher status in both 2013 and 2018. In China 81% of respondents believe that pupils respect teachers, compared with an average of 36% across the survey of 35 countries.

South Americans accord teachers with lower status than any other region. Every South American nation polled ranked in the bottom half of the survey, with Brazil coming bottom and Argentina fifth from bottom.

Teaching as an Occupation

13 out of 21 of the countries surveyed in both 2013 and 2018 have shown an increase in the number of people that would encourage their children to become teachers. The UK, Japan, New Zealand, Egypt, Singapore, Turkey, Greece, and Korea have seen a decrease in the number of people that would encourage their children to become teachers from 2013 to 2018.

In most of the European countries surveyed, more respondents thought that pupils disrespect teachers than respect them.

Teachers Earnings and Working Hours

95% of the countries surveyed in 2018 said teachers should be paid a wage in excess of the actual wage they thought they received. The only countries in which teachers are being paid more than the amount people consider fair for the job are Finland, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Singapore.

In all but six countries of the 35 countries polled in 2018, the general public underestimates – often considerably – the number of hours teachers work per week. In both the UK and the US, the public underestimated teachers’ working hours by around five hours per week. The only countries in which teachers report working fewer hours than the general public thinks they do are Canada, Finland, China, Indonesia, Uganda and Japan.

The countries that reported the longest teaching working hours are Japan, New Zealand, Uganda, Singapore and the UK.


The Global Teacher Status Index 2018 is the largest global research that Populus have conducted to date. It has contributed to building up an understanding of the varying levels of teacher status across the world.

The Varkey Foundation were able to use the Populus conducted research of global teacher status to compare with PISA scores, PISA is the Program for International Student Assessment that looks at pupil performance as a means of evaluating education systems across the world. The Varkey Foundation found that countries with a higher teacher status score were more likely to record higher PISA scores.

Read more in The Varkey Foundation’s report here.


This research took place between March-May 2018, predominantly via online surveys with links distributed via email.  Surveys in Ghana and Uganda were administered face to face using an online survey.  Research took place in 35 countries with a nationally representative sample of around 1000 in each country, and an additional sample of around 200 teachers in 29 of those countries. 

Populus is a full service research and strategy consultancy. We unlock the Critical Knowledge that brands need to better understand the world around us. We add value to our findings by applying expert analysis to uncover clear, actionable insight. Find out more by calling 020 7253 9900 or emailing info@populus.co.uk. 

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