Kaupo Padar: Schools still without options for teachers

Kaupo Padar.
Kaupo Padar. Source: Private collection

People tend to think that because the market eventually sorts itself out when it comes to the economy, it's the same in education. It is suggested that specialists with no teacher training could work in schools. While I'm sure many would do just fine, they would be exceptions among specialists, Kaupo Padar writes.

Education and research have an important role to play in ensuring sustainable economic development for Estonia. My father, as someone born during the first period of independence, still repeats what his father told him: "The most important, socially useful professions are those of doctor and teacher."

I will refrain from referencing or quoting ministers and other involved parties, as the information is there for everyone to find. But let us take a look at the future of education. Reading development plans for the teaching profession and other relevant documents available on the education ministry's website, one gets the impression they could only have been written by someone who has just returned from a motivational seminar and hasn't worked a day at a school. Or someone who has forgotten about what it was like to work as a teacher.

There is plenty of over-the-top pathos and hurray-optimism, as well as forecasts, statements and conclusions, while I cannot find a single document that treats with the practical side of the future of Estonian school. In other words, how will teaching be organized in the conditions of endemic teacher shortage and dwindling teacher training by universities?

There are many unanswered questions in Estonian society. Who is directly responsible for making sure Estonia has enough educated teachers and how? What is the future of teacher training? Who keeps tabs on professional and unprofessional teachers (and the future of schools)? Who allocates funds for teacher training to universities and based on what criteria? Who decides what future teachers will learn? What efforts are being made to boost the reputation of the teaching profession and what can make the work attractive in the future?

Over half of teachers over half a century old

Yes, teachers have always been older. But our schools will need thousands of new teachers in the next 15 years. Teachers with a master's degree and teacher training. The situation today sees principals sign one-year contracts with people "who at least have secondary education." 57 percent of new teachers lacked the necessary qualification at the start of the 2020/21 academic year.

It would be interesting to know the percentage of teachers working without qualification. Despite official requirements for candidates.

It would also be important to know how many new teaches versus specialists without teacher training (let us presume they have a master's degree) leave the profession one year or 2-5 years later.

I would very much like to know how people responsible for the field of education, who should be able to see the "big picture," plan to solve bringing 8,300 new teachers to Estonian schools in the next ca 15 years.

A random bachelor's degree is not enough, as a teacher needs a master's degree. Because a big part of bachelor's programs requires attendance, people who hold down full-time jobs cannot attend. Those who graduated back when a bachelor's degree still took five years (equated to today's master's degree) are already over 50.

Allow me to propose a simple problem for decision-makers. Estonia had 617 science teachers in 2021 of whom 30 percent were over 60 years of age. How many teachers should Estonia train in five years to cover the needs of all basic schools in 2027, provided teachers' workload remains the same?

The correct answer requires multiplying the number of teacher needed by at least two as not everyone who graduates goes to work in a school. Once you have it, repeat the process for all other subjects. Because if we continue to forgo analysis or running the numbers, the future will not be what we expect.

What do we even want?

People tend to think that because the market eventually sorts itself out when it comes to the economy, it's the same in education. It is suggested that specialists with no teacher training could work in school.

While I'm sure many would do just fine, they would be exceptions among specialists. We do not allow people with a master's degree in another area to become surgeons or airline pilots because they promise to "learn while working" or put together a "portfolio" to be defended in front of a committee to secure the necessary qualification.

Why are schools still without options when it comes to teachers in a situation where we have already lowered the standard?

Let us finally come out and say what the facts suggest: the teaching profession is insensibly energy and time-consuming for most people, with the compensation on offer not enough to make up for time spent and stress accumulated (size of classes, nominal workload etc.). And this despite the long [summer] break.

This applies to the situation in general, quantitatively. Things become even more drastic if we look at the situation in more detail. At the changes (for the worse) to how subjects are taught, the nuts and bolts of teacher training, pedagogical staff of universities, teachers' personal traits (empathy etc.), the role of male teachers in education etc. What is more, education is leaning toward the intellectual, while neglecting what makes life worth living: supporting emotional, social, aesthetic and spiritual development.

T. S. Eliot wrote the following in his 1932 essay "Modern Education and the Classics" that is just as relevant today as it was back then:

"Questions of education are frequently discussed as if they bore no relation to the social system in which and for which the education is carried on. This is one of the commonest reasons for the unsatisfactoriness of the answers. It is only within a particular social system that a system of education has any meaning. If education today seems to deteriorate, if it seems to become more and more chaotic and meaningless, it is primarily because we have no settled and satisfactory arrangement of society, and because we have both vague and diverse opinions about the kind of society we want. Education is a subject which cannot be discussed in a void: our questions raise other questions, social, economic, financial, political. And the bearings are on more ultimate problems even than these: to know what we want in education we must know what we want in general, we must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life. The problem turns out to be a religious problem."


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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