Schools across the Western world are struggling to find and retain qualified and experienced teachers; last year there were nearly 43,000 teacher vacancies in California alone. In the UK, schools are battling with their own recruitment and retention crisis, caused partly by the lure of comparatively lucrative overseas pay packages. Ofsted highlights: “more people left the UK (18,000) to teach than trained on post-graduate courses (17,000)” in 2015.
There are 8,000 international schools across the world and, according to the International School Consultancy, there will be more than 15,000 by 2025. English is still the most common language of instruction used by teachers in these schools, so the demand for English speaking teachers will continue to rise – further exacerbating the Occident’s skills and experience shortage.
Suggestions for how to tackle the issue have come from all quarters and include longer or more likely flexible working hours, and of course higher pay. In the UK, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools in England and Head of Ofsted, has called for policy makers to consider financial incentives, often referred to as ‘golden handcuffs’, to boost retention of teachers in the maintained sector. But teachers have responded negatively to the idea that financial inducements will resolve the issues, stressing that upheavals in the education systems have led to discontent and that changes to examinations, school structures and performance measures have brought teacher morale to a new low.
While governments, associations and international school groups debate at a national and global level how to keep experienced teachers and entice new talent into the sector, there is a real risk that education standards are slipping and may slip further. Education providers can either wait to see if reforms bring magic transformation, or take matters into their own hands and start to address their individual challenges in much the same way as a business would if faced with similar issues.
Globally businesses are embracing technology to expand and improve processes, increase collaboration, and enhance resources and the experience of their customers; education providers could learn from their successes and consider how empowering teachers with the right technology can be harnessed to help overcome resourcing challenges whilst improving, and at the very least maintaining attainment levels.
Case studies show that technology when effectively employed with the right training, conditions and support for teachers can deliver significant operational efficiencies, freeing up the time of valued and experienced teaching staff to concentrate on what they do best, teach, moderating and facilitating learning rather than simply preparing for it.
Secondly, there are innovations in cloud based learning, where structured, engaging lessons, which place the learner at the centre of the process, present them with opportunities for collaboration and ultimately create reflective learners. The potential for digital tools to help improve outcomes for children can be seen at many other levels too and, importantly, it is believed that they can improve learning methodology in STEM subjects – physics, environmental sciences, astronomy, mathematics, and chemistry.
Finally, the Internet has provided the opportunity for many thousands of people to learn outside of the traditional physical classroom, irrespective of geographical boundaries and time zones, and any other commitments such as the need to work to support families, or personal achievements such as sport, and music.
A survey by Financial Times Confidential Research shows that the adoption of cloud based learning continues to soar across Latin America. A tenth of Latin America’s 25 million university students already study online using distance learning (DL), with over half of that total based in Brazil. While the use of DL has been largely limited to further, higher and adult learning, the basic principles can be applied to all learning needs and age groups, accommodating the participation of large numbers of geographically dispersed students in collaborative on-line learning forums. This means that students need not be disadvantaged by the lack of experienced specialist teachers in the classroom – they can join their classes on-line, accessing high quality experienced subject matters experts, brining the school to these teaching superstars not the other way around. So schools have the potential to plug gaps in their teaching provision, whether temporarily or as a long-term solution to recruitment and retention challenges.
Various studies have shown that students who study on-line achieve the same, or better, learning outcomes in less time than those who study in a traditional classroom setting. Yet we know that the model needs to include strategies to support students with the presence and guidance of a teacher, whether remote or in-person. So, an education framework that is structured to deliver independent, cloud based, self paced learning, combined with tutoring from an experienced school based teacher or mentor and which utilises new digital tools to inspire, and motivate the imaginations of students, presents a credible and practical solution, both in terms of achieving and maintaining excellent outcomes, and as a way of addressing other issues, such as the UK’s teacher brain-drain, and the global teacher shortage.
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