Too many teachers, too few positions


All the agencies involved in education agree that teacher unemployment is a problem but cannot seem to find middle ground for a coherent solution

The high unemployment levels among teacher college graduates has been predicted to persist until 2021 or longer if the government doesn’t step in to control the production of manpower.

More than 100,000 teacher college graduates were affected when the Office of Basic Education Commission (Obec) didn’t hold examinations for teacher assistants for the academic year 2019 on the grounds that there were enough eligible candidates on the list from last year to fill up vacant positions for both this and the 2020 academic year.

That means those who graduated in 2019 and will graduate 2020 will now have to wait until 2021 to take the teacher assistant examinations and cannot be sure of what the public schoolteacher/teacher assistant recruitment policy will be at that time. The government’s determination to reign in civil service manpower and the ongoing merging of small schools are no doubt factors in the reduced demand for new teachers. The problem of oversupply is exacerbated by local programmes to train teachers that are likely to fill many of the positions left vacant by retiring teachers each year and the lack of any cap put in place by teacher training colleges.

Assistant Professor Athapol Anunthavorasakul, who teaches at the Chulalongkorn University’s (CU) Faculty of Education, said that Obec’s refusal to recruit teacher assistants this year meant that 70,000 teacher-college graduates – based on a calculation of 35,000 graduates per year – would be left in limbo and have to wait for the exams along with another 35,000 who graduate in 2021 as well as tens of thousands more from previous years.

This scenario reflects the failure of state agencies including Obec, teacher colleges and the Secretariat Office of the Teachers Council of Thailand to work together and reflects poor planning, he said.

“The education colleges have not looked at supplying numbers of graduates appropriate to the job market whilst the Obec, the Office of the Private Education Commission and local administrative bodies’ schools on the receiving end have failed to provide information on the demand. The authorities only focus on checking curricula and the teacher-student ratio while the Office of the Higher Education Commission has also failed to supervise education faculties when it should have and draw up a strategic plan. The agencies’ attitude of working separately rather than working together has been more obvious in the past year, he noted.

Athapol added that for many years, the five-year programme to qualify as a teacher wasn’t as well accepted as the general Bachelor’s degree courses that required only four years but gained popularity after the government sector put an annual teacher assistant-recruiting exam in place. It reached the point that 50,000 students chose to study Teacher Education (TE), prompting the authorities to step in to control the student-lecturer ratio at colleges. This saw recruitment drop to around 30,000 a year but that was still far too high for the actual number of vacant positions.

The current situation has resulted in the call for a “closed-system of teachers’ recruitment”, which would book TE freshmen for available teaching positions to start work right after graduation, to grow louder and louder, he said.

To tackle complaints that teachers were not always very well-versed in their fields especially in science, the idea emerged to let others – who had earned their degrees in fields relevant to school subjects but not followed an education programme – apply for teaching positions provided that they underwent a one-year teacher-training course.

Such an idea placed content over pedagogy, he noted, and while it might be appropriate for subject-based teaching such as physics, it put TE is in its own separate world.

“The big issue in Thai education is accountability; no one asks what will happen in the end. Various faculties follow-up with graduates to see if they get jobs but don’t look beyond that point. Furthermore, the assessments made by employers that are supposedly used by the universities to develop curricula and formulate courses are mere ceremonial documents and have no real impact, he added.

Obec secretary-general Amnat Wichayanuwat explained that the issue stemmed from the fact that the number of teachers produced wasn’t in line with the available teaching positions. He said the teacher assistant exam would be held in specific subjects according to the needs of each province, after which the eligible candidates’ names would be put on a waiting list for two years and the provincial education committees would recruit candidates from that list first.

“Obec also wants to ask if the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (MHESI) and teacher colleges have ever checked on the vacancies for teachers before they make a decision on producing teachers or if they just produce them at will. The Obec also isn’t directly responsible for organizing teacher assistant exams as that falls to the provincial education committees so I cannot just cancel the waiting list to allow the new exam sessions. That would go against the rules,”  Amnat said.

MHESI Minister Suvit Maesincee said a National Joint Committee for Teacher Education and Development should be established to solve these teacher issues on a national scale and that those on both supply and demand sides should come together to oversee the policies, directions, teacher standards and related matters.

A Deputy Prime Minister such as Wisanu Kruea-ngarm or Somkid Jatusripitak could chair the committee comprising MHSI and Education representatives, he suggested.

Also, a Teacher Education and Education System Research Institute could be set up to conduct systematic research to provide empirical knowledge for teacher production and curricula suited to the 21st century, he said.

Another institute called Teacher Education Centre of Excellence could be established to serve as the umbrella for main teacher training colleges to focus on producing teachers with PhDs, he added.

Assistant Professor Athapol however expressed some concerns that these new institutes, if set up without clear missions, would simply become just short-term solutions. He recommended that the authorities looked at the teacher crisis clearly and study its structural issues in depth before identifying solutions that would last for more than the next few years. With fewer students, education faculties and colleges must adjust and take on more roles such as training existing teachers and assisting with MHESI’s plans, he said.

Uttaradit Rajabhat University rector Ruengdej Wongla in his capacity as chairman of the Council of Thai Rajabhat Universities, has already proposed three solutions to the MHESI Minister for his consideration.

They cover: improving the teacher production mechanism so that it more clearly reflects the current situation; the teacher production must focus more on teachers’ performances in the 21st Century; and a proposal that universities join in the school, curriculum and teacher development at 5,000 schools to get inputs from real situations.

“Universities have the freedom to produce teachers and have done so without discussion, resulting in a overwhelming number of teacher graduates.  Those involved in the production of manpower– not just the Rajabhat Universities – need to get together and discuss the number of graduates each university will produce in which fields, he said. TE graduates should also be given more training so they could work in other fields if they cannot find jobs as teachers,” he added.

Chularat Saengpassa