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The shortage of teachers and its impact on sustainability education

Laming, M.M. (2008) The shortage of teachers and its impact on sustainability education. In: AARE 2008, 30 - November - 4 December 2008, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane



The current worldwide shortage of teachers has serious implications for nations attempting to implement education for sustainability. The inclusion of universal primary education as the second of the UN Millennium Goals was a recognition that education plays a crucial role in the alleviation of poverty, the promotion of peace and security and environmental protection. The projected shortage means that programs aimed at improving knowledge of sustainable practices such as the Australian Sustainable Schools Program, the British Sustainable Development Action Plan for Schools or the Nepali Sustainable Community Development Program will be undermined, as the teachers required to deliver them may not be available.

Warnings about a shortage of teachers have surfaced periodically since the early 1990s and while there is no shortage overall, an analysis of the situation, region by region presents a very different picture (Santiago, 2006). Some of the most highly developed and the least developed nations will experience moderate to severe teacher shortages, particularly in areas of high demand such as maths and science. Unfortunately, wealthy nations such as the UK, USA and Australia tend to regard recruitment of teachers from overseas as the easiest solution to the problem. Overseas recruitment is not a bad solution, so long as it is done ethically and understood to be a temporary solution; in Australia recruited maths an d science teachers from the USA in the 1970s to staff laboratories and classrooms funded by the recently created Commonwealth grants (Connell, 1993 ), Zimbabwe recruited teachers from Australia and the UK to cop e with the huge influx of students following majority rule in 1980 (Atkinson, 1982) and Cambodia used a mix of volunteer and contract teachers in 19 79 to replace teachers killed by the Khmer Rouge regime and again in the early 1990s to relieve temporary shortages caused by changes to recruitment and training policies (Duthilleul, 2004).

Recruiting teachers from the less-developed nations such as the African and Caribbean nations to fill positions in wealthy countries is not sustainable in the long term. The loss of capital invested in skilled personnel has a very serious impact. The ILO estimates that 50-80% of tertiary educated citizens from some of the smaller African and Caribbean nations now live abroad (Rattree, 2006) which represents an enormous loss of both economic and social capital and a major impediment to the achievement of social or environmental sustainability. Teachers enable to their students to discover many aspects of the world that would be otherwise unknowable and the consequences of their loss extend far beyond the classroom walls. Teachers are often highly-valued members of the community who occupy a wide range of leadership roles, particularly in rural areas where other professionals are seldom found. Losing their knowledge and skills is a danger to national and regional stability since lac k of education is inextricably linked to poverty, and consequently to ill-health and unplanned population growth (UNESCO, 2000). Families who see no alternatives are more likely to engage in behaviours that are inimical to community life and the development of civil society: child-marriage, debt-bondage, human trafficking and the cultivation of narcotics canal l be linked with poverty (Demombynes & Özler, 2005) and although there does not appear to be a direct link to terrorism, turbulent societies that are struggling to deal with internal problems may provide convenient, if unwitting hosts (Krueger & Malečková, 2003).

The alternative is for developed nations such as Australia examine their own policies and practices in regards to the recruitment and retention of teachers (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007). In particular, the need to investigate ways of attracting “non-traditional” applicants including graduates who might take up teaching as second career.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Conference Website:
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
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