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Rumeet Billan Headshot

The Ongoing Supply and Demand for Teachers

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Recently, I supported the 'Every Child Needs a Teacher' campaign run by the Global Campaign for Education. Statistics suggest that in Chad there is one primary school teacher for every 1,815 children, and in Mali, only half of all primary teachers are trained. Consider the quality (or lack thereof) of education within the classroom in areas of our world where students do not have access to trained teachers.

If we are going to take statistics into consideration, they also suggest that there is a surplus of trained K-12 teachers in Ontario (with the exception of specific areas like French and Technology). Couple this with the decline in school-aged children; qualified teachers in Canada are in a position where they are accepting jobs outside of the education sector as opposed to being inside the classroom.

On one end of the spectrum we have the need for qualified teachers, and on the other, we have a surplus.

For those, like myself, that support access to and the quality of education in all parts of our world, the inequities that exist are disheartening, and the desire to give a voice to those who can't be heard -- is evident. I hear you.

For teachers that have been attending career fairs, stocking up on additional qualification courses, visiting job boards, submitting applications and exhausting all available options, the frustration that you are experiencing is understandable, and it is also evident. I hear you.

So what do we do?

There are a number of interconnected variables involved that have created the dynamics that exist, whether you are in Chad, Mali or in Toronto. We can support campaigns, build awareness and urge the political powers that be to make education a priority. We can also 'fight' for equity to address the gaps that exist, and over time, this may have an impact. In some cases, the variables are so deeply systemic that the lack of access is just a symptom of a deeper global issue. At the moment, however, we have students without qualified teachers and qualified teachers without students. There is no easy and/or readily available solution.

In some parts of our world, teacher training is not accessible with the greatest challenges being in rural communities of developing countries. The cost and distance to attend are key variables that play a role in the decision to pursue a career in education. Those that complete their training, although there may be ample opportunity to teach, are sometimes waiting months to receive pay from either the government or the community.

In Canada, recent teacher graduates do have the opportunity to go abroad and find employment which is an avenue that has become quite popular. There are organizations like Engage Education that have created iday that allow Canadian teachers to spend time in the UK to not only experience the school setting, but also to experience first-hand what it would be like to teach abroad. Laura Wilson, Canadian Resource Director, says, "new teachers have such creative enthusiasm and are excited to make a difference in their own classroom right out of school."

Those that are not in a position to go abroad due to family obligations, commitments and a desire to teach in Canada are competing against hundreds and thousands of qualified candidates for the few openings that may exist for specific positions.

Disparities exist -- we know this. Often what is overlooked is the value that the teaching profession brings and the impact that it has not only on students, but in our community and also globally. This oversight has led to resentment and frustration. This oversight has also led to students without trained teachers and children without access to education.

So I ask; how do we fix this?

I support the notion that every child needs a teacher; I also support the notion of trained teachers being given the opportunity to create exceptional learning experiences inside the classroom. I understand that in some cases the need exceeds the supply, and in some cases the demand exceeds the need. However, I ask 'how' instead of 'can,' because I am hesitant to accept the default position that we can't fix the imbalance that we have created.

I fear that the inequities that exist will continue to deprive our students from the trained teachers that they need to become who they are capable of being. I fear that the frustration with the current climate that exists will continue to dishearten the qualified teachers that are waiting to impact the lives of students. So again I ask; how do we fix this?

I ask 'how' because our children depend on it.