Thirty four primary and secondary school teachers from 17 countries will graduate on Thursday after completing a six-month bridging programme to teach in Irish schools.
The graduating class – which includes qualified primary or post-primary teachers from Spain, India, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Italy, the UK, Croatia, Iceland, South Africa, the US, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Russia, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia – is the first group to complete the Migrant Teacher Project.
The programme launched two years ago at the Marino Institute of Education as part of the national Migrant Integration Strategy. The programme has secured Government funding for a second year of training and hopes to gain extra support from EU bodies to continue the project.
The teachers will bring a range of new skills to the Irish teaching pool including bilingualism, trilingualism and experience teaching subjects such as philosophy and Chinese, said Dr Emer Nowlan, who developed and taught the programme. They will also help to address the shortage of teachers across the primary and secondary system, she said.
“Our experience with the teachers reflects international research that people from abroad bring a different perspective and different ideas. They have experienced migration and also know what it’s like to live in a slightly different place to where you grew up and can be very good role models for children who have migrated here. In general they promote multicultural awareness.”
Despite the increasing diversity of schoolchildren in Irish schools, only 1 per cent of primary and 2 per cent of secondary teachers come from minority ethnic backgrounds, said Dr Nowlan.
The barriers faced by immigrant teachers is not “uniquely an Irish problem”, she adds. “Any migrant looking for work abroad faces barriers. Your qualifications lose value and you lose confidence alongside that. There’s also a narrow enough view of what a teacher looks like. They’re faced with significant barriers which explains why a huge number of people we reached had thought a career in teaching would be too difficult here.”
There are many more international teachers in Ireland eager to secure jobs in Irish schools, said Dr Nowlan, adding that 140 people had applied for the 38 places on the course. "There's no reason why this programme can't be replicated around the country. We've tried to make it as accessible as possible to people living outside Dublin and there's an online element along with their experience in a local school."
At least half of the teachers who participated in the Marino programme have already been offered paid teaching positions including temporary contracts and maternity-leave cover.
Speaking ahead of the graduation, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the programme would help with recruitment issues while bringing a new dimension to the teaching of languages and other subjects. “It will undoubtedly bring a new, unique cultural benefit to the schools where these teachers will get jobs,” said the Minister. “There is also the tremendous life experience that people who migrate can share with children in terms of their history, sociology and globalisation.”
School management bodies have recently reported shortages of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), modern foreign languages, Irish and home economics teachers at secondary level while primary schools need more substitute teachers.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said it was currently carrying out research to estimate the number of teachers still required to meet the future needs of schools at both levels.