Subsidies for teacher training courses suggested to fix shortages
Schools report major difficulties recruiting teachers in science, maths and languages
Minister for Education Richard Bruton said subsidies for postgradiate education courses in key subjects could boost teacher numbers. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Subsidised teacher-training courses are being considered to help tackle an acute shortage of qualified teachers for key subjects such as languages and science.
On Monday, Minister for Education Richard Bruton proposed a strategy to dramatically increase the number of students taking foreign languages in the State exams.
However, school management bodies report major difficulties finding qualified teachers for key subjects, while numbers applying to complete post-graduate teaching- training courses have fallen significantly.
The high cost of these courses - typically between €10,000 and €12,000 - is seen as a key reason behind a dramatic fall in applications.
Mr Bruton said he was confident a number of new policies under consideration will significantly increase the number of foreign language teachers over the coming years.
“Doing a masters in education is a significant investment... Clearly, it is a financial barrier for a person who has qualified in a language or one of the Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects to go on and teach.
“So, we want to see a bigger proportion of those who have proficiency in these areas where we have a scarcity of teachers attracted into language teaching.
“That is a very worthwhile area to consider [such as] a straightforward subsidy to attract people into languages or into Stem. That’s a concrete one.”
Mr Bruton acknowledged there were challenges ahead in providing access to a greater variety of languages.
While French is widely taught across the second-level system, the availability of other languages such as German, Spanish and Italian is more limited.
In addition, the new 10-year strategy envisages the introduction of Chinese to the Leaving Cert, along with a greater emphasis on other “trade” languages such as Portuguese, Japanese and Russian.
Some options to help with tuition in these subjets include greater scope to allow trainees and “language assistants” into the classroom.
“We will look at initiatives like teacher assistants - where embassies have assisted with significant numbers of young people who come to Ireland, who are native speakers, who assist with the language in the classroom,” he said.
Mr Bruton added: “We will also look at those who take up education programmes - we need to look at the distribution of those and encourage a more balanced distribution across the subjects.
“We can of course also build-up existing teachers through professional qualifications... There are a range of options under very active consideration.”
Although most Irish students study foreign languages in school, surveys show we lag behind our European counterparts in our capacity to speak them.
For example, about 20 per cent of Irish adults know one foreign language, compared with the European average of 35 per cent.
Mr Bruton said Brexit meant learning a foreign language was “no longer a luxury for some but a necessity for most”.
“Brexit and the increasing importance of non-English speaking countries globally mean that English-speaking countries such as our own will need to put a new-found importance on foreign languages in order to excel in the modern world.
Employers’ group Ibec welcomed the new strategy and said better language skills are needed wherever companies interact with service providers and suppliers, as well as in sales and marketing.
Tony Donhoe, Ibec’s head of education and social policy said most small and medium-sized businesses tend not to even consider markets where they perceive language and cultural differences are an entry barrier.
“Exporting to the UK represents the height of their ambitions. When 75 per cent of the world’s population do not speak English, and only 9 per cent speak English as their first language, this is a missed opportunity,” he said.
“ The threat posed by Brexit also makes the development of a multi-lingual workforce even more critical.”