Schools grapple with teacher shortage

Many Swiss pupils are being taught by hastily recruited foreign teachers Keystone

Schools have re-opened in many Swiss cantons. But extraordinary measures have been needed to cope with an anticipated shortage of teachers.

This content was published on August 15, 2002 - 14:07

The basic problem remains: teaching has become less attractive as a profession.

For some years now, schools in many Swiss cantons have been facing a serious problem: a shortage of teachers.

And, even though temporary solutions have been found for the current year, the problem has not gone away.

Teachers from abroad

The situation is particularly difficult in canton Aargau. In 2003, due to a restructuring of the teacher training system, there will be no newly qualified primary school teachers to take up posts in schools.

In 2004, according to the weekly magazine "Beobachter", it is thought that there will be only half the required number of newly qualified teachers.

This year, as last, canton Aargau will be employing teachers from abroad - about 50 of them, according to the ATS, the canton's education department.

Other cantons - Thurgau, Schaffhausen, Lucerne, Nidwalden, Graubünden and Fribourg - have also had to resort to employing foreign staff, says the ATS.

Temporary expedients

Some cantons, such as Basel-City and Basel-Country, Bern, Aargau, Fribourg and Vaud have also started employing students and other private individuals who are not fully trained.

In Zug, Uri and Valais, teachers who normally teach at lower levels have also been given duties in higher classes. So, for example, primary teachers find themselves teaching in secondary schools.

Stability in Ticino

In Ticino, thanks to the large number of high-school students who choose to go into teaching, the situation is stable for the time being. But in the coming years, problems could arise even here.

"The problem will become evident when the teachers who began their careers in the early 1970s begin to retire," notes Diego Erba, head of the canton's schools division.

Competition

Many cantons, including the French-speaking cantons of Fribourg, Neuchâtel and Vaud, have great difficulty in finding people to teach scientific subjects, mathematics and economics.

In these areas, there is often fierce competition from the private sector.

However, as Diego Erba points out: "When the economy is steaming ahead, it is more difficult to find young graduates wanting to become teachers, but in times of economic uncertainty, such as the present, the situation is reversed."

But there is also competition from within the school system itself. A canton such as Zurich, because it is able to offer teachers attractive salaries, overcame last year's difficult situation (more than 200 teaching posts vacant) by attracting staff from other cantons.

A profession in crisis

However, the solutions found for the 2002-2003 academic year should not divert our attention from one of the basic problems weighing on schools today.

In recent years, the teaching profession has lost much of its social prestige and appeal.

Many potential teachers are put off by cost-cutting measures in the education sector, which have led to longer working hours, bigger class sizes, more subjects to teach, and unattractive pay and working conditions.

And, especially in urban areas, teachers are often expected to take on the task of integrating foreigners and providing social assistance, for which they have no proper training.

by Andrea Tognina

Teaching facts

Schools have resorted to recruiting teachers from abroad.
Primary school teachers are being used to fill gaps at secondary schools.
By 2004, only half the required number of teachers will be graduating.

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