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Govt prepares for teacher shortage

Education Ministry says 40% will retire by 2019

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Age is taking its toll on the Education Ministry, with half of the teachers at state-run primary and secondary schools now approaching retirement. 

The Basic Education Commission has 400,000 teachers on its books, but 188,071 of them, or 48% of the workforce, will end their teaching careers between now and 2019.

The ministry has mapped out measures in a six-year plan to tackle the potential shortage of teachers.

Mathematics looks to be the subject hit hardest by the shortage, followed by English and Thai, according to Varakorn Samakoses, a former deputy education minister involved in the project.

The plan, which starts this year, calls for a cash injection of 4.2 billion baht to train 30,000 new teachers to fill the vacancies as they appear.

The recruitment will be done through university scholarships that offer job guarantees to high school students who major in education at university and get good grades.

If students graduate from university with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, they will be offered teaching positions, Education Minister Jurin Laksanavisit said.

Another idea is to sponsor outstanding undergraduates in other majors to take up an additional one-year course in education, he said.

The measures are a medium-term solution to the problem. A longer-term plan will be implemented by the National Commission on Education, which is directly responsible for setting policy on teacher development.

While many officials at the ministry are fretting about the future shortage, Mr Varakorn said the problem should be seen as an opportunity.

"Many people are saying the number of retiring teachers over the next 10 years is a crisis," he said. "But I believe it is a golden opportunity.

"This is a transitional period when old teachers having problems adjusting to a changing environment will retire and will be replaced by a new breed of qualified and determined teachers."

The government was moving in the right direction to solve the teacher shortage with its medium- and long-term plans, Mr Varakorn added.

"Past attempts to solve the teacher crisis were miserable. Many previous governments were reluctant to allow the Education Ministry to replace all those who retired. But this government has already agreed to new positions for all retired teachers."

But offering scholarships alone might not be enough to entice high school students to study education at university. They should be offered attractive salaries, Mr Varakorn said.

State and private universities face the same problem, with about a third of their 5,000 lecturers retiring in the next decade, according to Sombat Noparak, dean of the education faculty at Naresuan University and chairman of the education faculty deans.

The problem is not just one of quantity, but of quality as well, he said.

About 60% of lecturers in education have no experience in research studies. All faculties need more lecturers with doctorate degrees in education, he said. Rajabhat universities aside, only 43% of lecturers at state universities have a PhD in education. At Rajabhat universities, which were formerly teachers' colleges, the rate is 20%, he said.

In Singapore, 85% of lecturers at the National Institute of Education have a doctorate degree and the rest have master's degrees, Mr Sombat said.

The curriculum being offered at about 100 education faculties at public and private universities is flawed, he added.

The courses have been designed mainly for students who major in education that want to become experts in specific fields.

But the main job market is the ministry, which is looking for teachers equipped with a broad range of skills able to teach students at a more basic level, he said.

That could be why only 10% of 30,000 new graduates each year find jobs.

The rest end up working outside education because they do not have the qualifications the ministry is looking for, Mr Sombat said.

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