Teacher shortage "huge problem"
The door for retired teachers to return remains open as long as their physical and mental capacity allows them to, the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, said.
Loau also did not shy away when admitting that there is a shortage of teachers.
"It’s a huge problem," the Minister said.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer on Monday, Loau also clarified that retirees returning to work to fill the much-needed gap in the shortage of teachers is not new.
"It is their choice," Loau said. “There are a lot of reasons why there is a shortage of teachers. We cannot stop people from emigrating overseas, they win the quota and they leave. There are also those who have chosen a different career path.
“There are all sorts of reasons. It’s a huge problem. Some have looked elsewhere for jobs, some do not want to teach anymore and others have been sacked due to their conduct as teachers.”
Retirees remaining in the education sector is “not new” but they are not “being kept on”, Loau said in contradiction to reports.
The Minister clarified that every retiree currently teaching applied to be employed.
Loau also disputed reports in a Samoa Observer article published last week ("Retirees teaching for passion, cover shortage") that said the Minister of Education “was unaware of retired teachers being employed to fill gaps in classrooms.”
“This is not true. In fact, it was when I entered this office that the Ministry started to do that, it is a policy from 2016,” he said.
“They are required to apply each year and provide a medical report to prove that they are able to work. Some of these people, even after retirement age, still have a lot to give.
“Once they are approved, the Ministry sees where they would fit best; if they were an English teacher, we will place them where English teachers are needed and their post would also depend on where they live.”
And it is the chances allowed by such policies that education veterans including Lafaitele Aiga Esera is grateful for.
“Forcing is the wrong word. The freedom to choose is left up to us the retirees to see if we are fit enough to return to work, this is why they require a medical report,” he said.
“But it is a waste of their talent if they just suddenly stay home just because they have reached 55. As long as they have the strength, continue. But if a retiree has the strength but has no preparations [to get back into the field, rubbish.”
Speaking from experience, 71-year-old Lafaitele said the permanent posts of a teacher stops at age 55; after that, they are required to apply every year to ensure they are fit for work.
Lafaitele retired in July as the school inspector for the Sagaga District after dedicating more than 40 years of her life to teaching.
And she is planning on applying for work again believing she still has a lot to offer.
“And if people look at us working at such an old age with the determination to fulfil our purpose, it is an encouragement to the young teachers,” said Lafaitele.
“My coming this far was not easy. There have been heaps of disasters and fire and so many valleys, but that prepares the journey for now. So it’s a waste of preparation given when we just sit here.
“Break for a while is good, and then get on the stage again and continue.”
The shortage of educators, particularly administrative vacancies for school Principals, has been evident for some time in the weekly Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) circular.
Currently, M.E.S.C. is accepting applications for Principals at: Vaisala Primary School, Faleapuna, Primary School, Apolima Primary School, Manunu Primary School, Palauli I Sisifo Primary School, Tiavea Primary School, Uafato Primary School, Pata Primary School, Falefa Primary School and Faleula Primary School.
Mataaevave College and Lepa and Lotofaga College are in search of Vice Principals.
Loau said that it is not easy feeding teachers to the rural areas when not many of them live in the vicinity of the schools in need of teachers.
“It’s not an easy job. Sometimes the Ministry finds it hard to shuffle a pool of teachers available for schools who are in need of teachers,” he said.
“Posts depend on where they live. It is not easy to live far from where you teach because it also affects the way that teacher delivers in her classes.”