Teachers shortage feared

The Faculty of Education at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) is struggling to attract a high calibre of students to its Foundation and Bachelors programmes.

This will eventually lead to a national shortage of teachers, the University has said.

The University's Deputy Vice Chancellor, Peseta Dr. Desmond Lee Hang, said the Faculty has been struggling with this “perpetual challenge” for years, after the entry criteria to the programmes was lowered to meet a demand for more teachers.

Two years ago, when the criteria was raised to the same level as the other Foundation programmes, just 10 students were up to par compared with 200 the year before.

With too few students that year, Education staff were encouraged to conduct research rather than be laid off for a lack of classes.

“We are still trying to fight against that negative perception of teaching, like it’s the last career choice,” Peseta said.

“We are trying to encourage our bright students to take up teaching, which is something they don’t want and their parents don’t want. This is a perpetual challenge for education, trying to entice good quality students to enter teaching.

“Even if they enter teaching, the pay is not an incentive for them. They might not stay there long.”

A graduate with a Bachelors of Education can earn up to $28,000 a year but there is no progression from there. 

With other more enticing professions offering salaries two or even three times more, the University can do little to attract good quality candidates to teach the next generation at school.

This low calibre of teachers in the system is reflected in the challenges the Teacher Upgrade Programme is having, according to studies published last month.

The programme is reportedly struggling to convince teachers to take their Foundation level mathematics papers seriously, to communicate responsibly with their principals and teachers, and to seek University facilities for academic support.

Some teachers reported finding the teaching material and the Bachelors material, all being taught in English, too hard for them.

F.O.E Dean, Tofilau Dr. Faguele Suaalii, said the English challenge comes down to not enough practice or a desire to improve, having routinely recommended more work and support for upgrading teachers only to have them resubmit assignments with work copied from the internet or done by a family member.

“They just don’t read. From there they will never extend their knowledge,” he said. 

“An analogy I use is like swimming. You want to swim, get in the water. If you want to be better at English, you have to practice. That is something that is missing.”

He said classes at all levels of the system are meant to be taught in English but teachers will often resort to Samoan, especially to have class discussions and enforce new knowledge.

It is the expectation that teachers will help students transfer that new knowledge into English, in order to express their understanding in their assignments and in further work. 

“But somehow it never happened,” Tofilau said.

“We resort to Samoan as a teaching tool to make discussions between the familiar and the unfamiliar, abstract nature of subjects we’re teaching,” Peseta agreed.

“At the end of the day until we fix that we will continue to have teachers that go back out into the system and perpetuate this broken English culture of practice in their classrooms.”

Peseta said until literacy and numeracy rates improve – starting with the teachers’ own abilities – education in Samoa will continue to struggle against international expectations.

To teachers who want to deliver classes and also be taught in their own language, the harsh reality of globalisation means that is not possible. 

“I think it’s our passport towards recognition of our programmes if we maintain our language of instruction in English,” Peseta said.

“The Ministry [of Education, Sports and Culture] has a bilingual policy and it is the objective of that policy to churn out students from the education into tertiary who are competent in both English in Samoan, written or spoken.

“Until that objective is realised the University should not abandon its English language of instruction policy. We need to stay the course and see this through.”

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