Paris, 15 Mar 2004
Teacher shortages, particularly in key areas such as computer sciences, mathematics, technology, foreign languages and sciences, are prompting education providers to re-think the ways in which schools and teaching are organised. This will be one of the main topics at a meeting of OECD Education Ministers in Dublin on 18-19 March (see www.oecd.org/edumin2004).
According to OECD research, ageing teacher workforces and insufficient levels of qualification among teachers pose dual threats to the quality of education in many countries. On average three out of 10 secondary teachers are in their 50s in OECD countries, Germany and Italy having the largest numbers of teachers in this age group, followed by Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway and Finland . Many retirements are looming, and some countries are struggling to attract qualified recruits.
In many cases teachers occupy posts that they are not fully qualified to fill. This is the case, according to OECD research, for over 20% of full-time upper secondary teachers in Mexico, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.
Raising pay levels for teachers may be one way of responding to teacher shortages. In 14 out of 19 OECD countries with relevant data, the salary of a lower secondary teacher with 15 years experience grew more slowly than GDP per capita between 1994 and 2001. Competition from higher-paid jobs elsewhere is particularly intense in science and technology, languages, and mathematics.
But governments also need to address issues relating to teachers' professional status and job satisfaction. Surveys of teachers indicate that they place a lot of importance on the quality of their relations with students and colleagues, on feeling valued and supported by school leaders, good working conditions and opportunities to develop their skills. Too often, the same surveys show, reality falls short of expectations. This can be particularly discouraging for new entrants to the teaching profession, many of whom drop out after only a few years.
One of the keys to tackling teacher shortages, according to OECD analysts, is to recognise that there is not a single, uniform labour market for teachers, but rather a set of markets distinguished by type of school -- primary, secondary, vocational and so on -- and the personal characteristics of teachers, including gender, age, experience, and subject specialisation. Targeted policies are needed to recruit teachers in areas where there are particular shortages, to support new teachers in their early career, and to improve the skills of teachers already in schools.
For further information, journalists should contact Philip McKenzie, Directorate for Education (tel. 33 1 45 24 92 ).