Steep drop in teaching degree applications causes alarm

A steep drop in student enrolment in teaching degrees has prompted the Chilean government to send a new bill to parliament that delays the entry into force of a law that sets more stringent admission requirements for teaching degrees. The purpose of the law is to raise the quality of teacher training.

Data compiled by the Ministry of Education reveals that between 2011 and 2020 enrolment in teaching careers dropped by 39% and preliminary figures for this year indicate a 19% drop compared to last year.

The drop is worrying given the existing deficit of almost 10,000 teachers and a projected shortfall of 26,300 by 2025, which the dean of the education faculty at Universidad Central de Chile termed “a tragedy”.

At the popular Universidad San Sebastián, for example, this year’s enrolment in teaching careers is half of what it was three years ago.

According to research by the think tank Elige Educar, in five years’ time the lack of teachers could reach 19% of those required.

The shortage would mainly affect secondary education (32%) with deficits in areas such as history and geography (44%), natural sciences (40%), English, technology, music and primary education.

The delay of the entry into force of some of the requirements set by the law was proposed by a special committee convened by the Ministry of Education charged with proposing measures to make teaching careers more attractive.

Applicant numbers fall drastically

The number of applicants to teaching careers fell drastically again this year, showing that measures adopted to entice more students to these careers, such as the Teaching Vocation Scholarship for graduates and professionals, have not worked.

Ana Luz Durán, dean of the faculty of education at Universidad San Sebastián and president of the Council of Deans of Private Universities, said: “In 2018, a total of 18,700 students had enrolled in teaching careers in all universities in the country; this year the students are a bit over 9,000.”

She puts the lack of interest down to the low salaries obtained by teachers. In her view, the solution for the shortage of teachers is a wage increase, more incentives and a more flexible career.

“After 25 years of teaching, he or she earns an amount equal to what a doctor earns four years after graduating,” Durán says.

“It is also important to provide teachers with other incentives related to improving their quality of life and working conditions. They must get support for engaging in postgraduate studies, for travelling abroad to improve themselves and have the prospect of an attractive career as school directors.”

Teaching must also be a prestigious occupation as it is in countries such as Finland, she says.

A strong indication of the need to bolster teachers’ working conditions is the fact that between 2005 and 2016 around 20% of new teachers left their posts before completing five years in the school system, according to a study.

Proposal to cut teacher shortage

The Council of Deans of Private Universities – that groups 15 out of a total of 56 public and private universities in Chile – has made a proposal to reduce the shortage of teachers.

The proposal includes reducing the entry requirements for studying a teaching career, staging a campaign of influential personalities to induce students to enrol, introducing an inter-regional mobility scholarship to fill in vacancies in regions as well as postgraduate scholarships, access to free health programmes, providing support to new teachers in buying their first property as well as discounts in book purchases and an incentive system linked to results.

Providing free university tuition for all pre- and postgraduate studies has also been proposed.

Durán says that university leaders hope that if the above measures are implemented, it may be possible to “bring forward certain incentives in the Teaching Career Law within five to 10 years in order to raise wages and improve working conditions”.

Josefina Santa Cruz, dean of the education faculty at Universidad del Desarrollo, agrees with the above but reiterates the importance of reducing the university admission test score by 2026.