Loan Dao

We have a massive teaching shortage. Here’s how to fix it

The Federal Department of Education predicts an alarming teacher shortage of 4,100 teachers by 2025. It is now more pressing than ever that we explore ways of addressing this crisis. 

Our research examined female Initial Teacher Education (ITE) completion data in Australia to identify trends around which degree types (postgraduate and undergraduate) and study modes (internal, external, and multimodal) are likely to attract more potential female ITE students, and subsequently increase the ITE completion and ultimately the teacher supply pipeline.   

The research reveals a declining trend in ITE completion by females in the internal study mode for both degree types.  On the contrary, there has been an increasing trend in ITE completion by females in the external and multimodal study modes for both types of programs.  We therefore argue that policymakers and universities should make these programs and study modes more accessible to potential female ITE students.  This would help to maximise female ITE completion in tackling the predicted teacher shortage. 

Why use female ITE completion data

Historically, the teaching profession in Australia – and globally – has attracted more females than males. As such, efforts to increase the number of females graduating from ITE programs would play a significant role in bolstering the teaching workforce. Supporting women’s entry and retention in the teaching profession is key to ensuring an adequate ongoing teacher supply.  

A closer look at what the female ITE completion data tell us 

Our research shows that for the period from 2001 to 2021, there was a significant decline – by nearly 40 per cent – of female ITE completion in the internal study mode for undergraduate ITE programs. But at the same time, female ITE completion by multimodal study doubled and nearly tripled for female ITE graduates in the external study mode.   

Similar observations can be seen with the postgraduate ITE programs.  The internal study mode declined by nearly 20 per cent in the same period. For the external and multimodal study modes, there were mammoth increases of 264.40% and 1089.11% respectively in female ITE completion.  

It is clear that there is a growing interest by females to enrol in and complete ITE programs in the external and multimodal study modes as opposed to the internal study mode. 

A graph showing the percentage of a course type

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The upward trend in the external and multimodal study modes is likely attributed, in part, to technological advancements.  The increased use and accessibility of the internet in homes would have contributed to the growth in female ITE completion in these modes of study.  

These same technological advancements facilitated the adoption of online delivery methods for ITE degrees by universities. The shift to online learning around 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic would have also contributed to the upward trend in the external study mode. 

Given the increasing trend in female ITE completion in these flexible study modes, universities would be wise to make these modes more accessible to maximise ITE completion.  We argue that policymakers, universities and schools have an important role to play in this space to address the teacher shortage. 

Policymakers should consider: 

Offering financial support, such as scholarships and financial incentives, which are specifically targeted at female students, for example: 

  1. loans or grants for female students during placements to help cover living expenses; and 
  2. needs-based support for female students from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds. 
  3. Capping tuition fees to ensure they remain affordable for all female students. 

Universities should consider:  

Providing support for students balancing academic studies with other commitments, such as family duties, which disproportionately burden female students, such as: 

  1. flexible assignment extension and leave of absence policies; and 
  2. subsidised childcare services. 

Offering flexible study options, which might include: 

  1. part-time study;  
  2. evening classes; 
  3. block study; and 
  4. mixed study mode. 

Enhancing the accessibility of external and multimodal programs by: 

  1. providing 24/7 IT helpdesk support and certified training programs to aid the development of skills required for online learning; 
  2. implementing user-friendly learning management systems and eLearning tools; and 
  3. offering funding for suitable IT equipment and internet access, especially for those in regional areas.

Fostering supportive and inclusive learning environments by: 

  1. establishing peer support groups and academic skills advising tailored to external and online students; 
  2. providing networking opportunities;  
  3. mentorship programs; and 
  4. further initiatives that address the unique challenges faced by women in tertiary study. 

Schools should consider: 

Collaborating with policymakers and universities in structured partnerships to: 

  1. facilitate the establishment of outreach programs; 
  2. provide mentoring initiatives; and 
  3. promote teaching as a viable and rewarding career choice for females.

Investing in flexible, supportive, and financially accessible ITE programs, alongside broader strategies can encourage more females to enrol in and complete ITE degrees.  This would contribute to ensuring a steady supply of qualified teachers to help avert the pending teacher shortage. 

From left to right: Scott Cowie is a librarian in Academic Engagement Services at Griffith University, who has a keen interest in educational research.  Loan Dao is an Educational Designer at the University of New South Wales and an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Access Education at Central Queensland University.  Jeanne Allen is an Associate Professor in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University and is also a member of the Griffith Institute for Educational Research.  Darren Pullen is a Lecturer in Health Science and Information and Communications Technology in the School of Education at the University of Tasmania.