policy makers take steps to attract and retain educators.

The strong global labor market in recent years undoubtedly has accelerated talent scarcity in many markets across many roles. So it’s no surprise that public sector employees, whose wages are typically less competitive than those working for private companies, are switching to jobs in the commercial sector. This has been especially true for teachers, whose numbers are dwindling because of more attractive pay and benefits in the private sector.

Consider the U.K., which is facing a severe shortage of qualified teachers, according to the BBC. The authors reported  that the ratio of students to teachers has risen from 15.5 in 2010 to 17 in 2018, an increase of nearly 10%. Furthermore, the negative impact has had a greater effect on quality of education in less affluent areas of the country, the report found.

Similarly, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimated a shortage of 110,000 teachers in the U.S., with the biggest impact on poorer districts across the country. In New Zealand, the education ministry has been advertising for qualified instructors in other English-speaking countries, according to Hawaii Public Radio. A lack of qualified teachers in rural areas of China has led government authorities to incentivize former teachers to come out of retirement to help educate new generations of children. In the Netherlands, the shortage is so severe that the teachers union is planning to go on strike if the government doesn’t allocate €423.5 million euros in the education system to increase salaries and decrease workload. In fact, some schools have had to close early because of the problem. 

While teaching is often viewed as a respected profession, attracting graduates to become educators and encouraging experienced teachers to stay in the field have become increasingly challenging in many countries. That’s because often governments have failed to keep salaries at a competitive level with private sector jobs, and the hours teachers must work can be brutal. 

For instance, the Japanese Education Ministry in 2016 found that middle school educators worked more than 63 hours a week while elementary school teachers worked more than 57 hours weekly. Additionally, many of these teachers were not paid overtime. This may be, however, in line with Japanese culture, as a government survey reported that nearly one quarter of Japanese companies require employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime a month. Japanese workers are among the overworked in the world.

One educator in the U.S. found that more than 90% of teachers he surveyed are thinking about leaving the profession or discourage others from considering teaching. The EPI cites a number of reasons for the shortage of teachers, including a high rate of those leaving the profession, low pay, challenging classroom environments and lack of training. Again, the problem is especially acute in poorer areas.

signs of change

While these trends may be discouraging to education advocates, many countries are making greater investments in their education systems and teachers. According to the OECD’s 2018 Education at a Glance report, most member countries have increased investments in education from 2010 to 2015, despite a decrease in enrollment. On average, OECD countries were spending 5% more per student during that period, and salaries for primary and secondary have increased over the past decade.

In the U.K., the government has increased pay and is working on lessening the workloads of teachers, which will help retention and attract more grads to the profession. In the U.S., New Jersey lawmakers want to help STEM teachers with their student loans. In Australia, the government is offering up to $50,000 to attract educators in Melbourne to relocate and take up teaching positions in rural areas. India has released a new draft education policy that calls for an overhaul in the training of tertiary instructors.

In Finland, which is recognized for its high-quality educational system, teachers are treated with the same respect as doctors and engineers, requiring those who enter the field to acquire a master’s degree. At the same time, they are given greater autonomy to ensure the success of students. This came about because the government has continually examined and enhanced the system.

With World Teacher Day being celebrated around the world this month, it shines a spotlight on the struggles and challenges teachers around the world face. Despite long hours and subpar pay, many continue to see the value that teaching adds to society and the impact on the next generation of workers and citizens. And for many policy makers, they are striving to improve the employee value proposition for those entering the field. 

As efforts around the world focus on improving the working conditions in schools, the International Labour Organization has outlined several key focus areas including:

  • providing adequate staffing
  • offering attractive salaries and benefits
  • ensuring class sizes are reasonable
  • properly equipping classrooms
  • offering continuing education and other training
  • involving teachers in policy discussion

As with any other candidates in today’s tight labor market, attracting graduates to the field and enticing existing teachers to stay in their jobs continue to be a challenge for many governments. While the wage disparity will always plague the education field, there are other ways to make teaching a more attractive profession. By improving working conditions, highlighting the impact that teaching has on society and the enduring effect teachers have on people’s lives, policy makers can help minimize the talent shortage currently plaguing many countries around the world.