One in three Norwegian primary school education students are dropping out only halfway through their training, leading to fears of a serious teacher shortage in the coming years. The need for teachers is increasing, but enrollments are down despite a targeted campaign to attract more young people into the profession.
The figures were revealed in a report released on Wednesday examining the effectiveness of reforms introduced in 2010, reported newspaper Dagsavisen. The reforms followed a 2006 study by education quality assurance organization NOKUT, which identified serious problems in teacher training. Graduates were poorly prepared, lacked practical experience, and the theory and practice weren’t well linked.
The 2010 reforms were designed to attract and retain students into education through encouraging specialization both in individual subjects and at either primary or secondary level. The government also commissioned an advertising campaign, to ask potential teachers “have you got it in you?”
The results of the study by the Ministry of Education and Research (Kunnskapsdepartementet) expert group found despite an initial increase of nine percent, applications to study primary and high school teaching had dropped to four per cent between 2012 and 2013.
One in three students had dropped out two years in to teacher training, one of the highest drop-out rates in higher education. The situation was particularly bad in Northern Norway. The group found a significant difference in marks between various training programs, and said many had unclear goals.
“When you look at these figures it’s natural to think that the teacher shortage has got out of control,” said Professor Peder Haug from Volda University. “The number of students in schools is increasing, but we aren’t getting more young people into the profession – despite reforms and campaigns. Meanwhile, there’s a large teacher cull from those in their 60s and 70s soon retiring.”
No simple explanation
Elaine Munthe, a professor and dean at Stavanger University led the research group, and said there are many reasons for the drop-out rates. “Very few of them had anything to do with the education itself,” she told Dagsavisen. “Some change their minds, others move. The most common reason is perhaps that education seems like a good course to apply for anyway, since they’ve seen the teaching profession in practice for many years as a student. But when it comes to sticking with it, it’s more demanding than they thought.”
Bjørnal Ibenholt is a third year education student studying in Drammen. The 37-year-old said many students are too immature, both in age and academically when they start the demanding course. “The quality of the teachers in education is also very variable, even though many are good,” he explained. “There’s also a lack of cohesion between theory and practice. We had the first practical period only a few weeks into the studies, and I think everyone felt stressed early. For immature students it’s clearly demanding to suddenly stand before a class. At the same time I think it’s deliberately structured like this, to weed out those who know that they’re maybe wasting their time on such study.”
Making teaching attractive
Norway’s Education Union (Utdanningsforbundet) leader, Ragnhild Lied, said the simple solution to get more people into teaching is to increase salaries. “They must go up to make the profession more attractive to youths who really are motivated to go into a challenging, exciting, but also demanding profession,” she told Dagsavisen. “I talk with many young people who have teaching talent and could consider the profession, but nevertheless don’t choose this education because of the pay levels.”
Haud agreed, saying Norwegian teachers with 15 years of experience are paid less than other OECD countries. But he said the example of Finland, where teaching is a highly respected profession with a lot of status, showed pay wasn’t everything. “In addition Finland has only had a fraction of all the reforms Norway has had it its teaching education,” he said. “The changes have been initiated from professionals and not from politicians, like in Norway.”