How edtech can support schools facing the maths teacher shortage

By Hannah Senel-Walp, principal of online courses at Pamoja

Mention the maths teacher shortage to school leaders in the UK or US and you won’t find many surprised faces. The recruitment and retention crisis has been building since around 2011 in the UK; in 2017/18, maths recruited just 79% of the required number of trainees.[1] In the US, teacher shortages have been around since data started being kept more than 25 years ago, but the problems have become much more acute in recent years. Variations are seen state-to-state, but as an example, 80% of school districts in California reported a shortage of qualified teachers in the 2017/18 school year, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.[2] Unfortunately, this means that the challenges presented by the crisis are anything but new.

The cause

There are two fundamental problems at the heart of the maths teacher shortage. Difficulties recruiting and high turnover rates. As a profession, teaching rarely offers maths graduates a career package as appealing as other occupations available to them. “With greater job opportunities offering stronger compensation in the broader labor market for individuals who have trained in mathematics and science fields, these subjects are up against a particularly difficult recruitment challenge.”[3] This also causes a high turnover rate, with many maths teachers leaving the profession within their early-career for more attractive opportunities.[4] Teacher turnover is further affected by lack of preparation; in a bid to drive recruitment, there are now a number of pathways into teaching that don’t necessarily prepare trainees in the same way that traditional teacher training does, and a link has been shown between these alternate pathways and a higher turnover rate. There is also a link between lack of administrative support in schools and teacher retention issues.[5]

The effect

Simply, schools are having to compromise: “Where maths teacher shortages occur, schools find that they receive few job applications for advertised posts; many of the applicants are not suitable; they frequently have to re-advertise; and they may make teaching appointments that they consider less than ideal.”[6] To add to this, during periods in which schools are struggling to fill posts, students are being taught by teachers who are underqualified. In 2016, just 78% of maths teachers held a relevant post A-level qualification in the subject.[1] Inevitably, when teachers are underprepared, under-qualified or simply unsuitable, it’s the students’ education that’s really being compromised. At a time when excellent STEM education is more important than ever to prepare students for an increasingly digital future and jobs market, receiving a less than ideal maths education should not be an option.

The solutions

Where schools struggle with teacher recruitment and filling teaching vacancies within schools, one of the viable options is to retrain the existing faculty so they can take on additional courses. While resources are available to facilitate this, it requires placing heavy workloads upon all staff involved and is a long-term solution to a very current challenge.

This is where edtech solutions come in as a great alternative for schools. Light-touch digital support for students to compliment the school’s existing offering can be a good start to easing some of the challenges that teachers face. These solutions can include access to digital textbooks which include classroom resources such as self-check assessments and classroom quizzes. Online revision tools or tutoring could also feed into student support at the point of need.

Alternatively, depending on your school’s curriculum, courses that are taught completely online can help to bridge the gap where teachers are in short supply in schools. Online courses have grown in popularity in the last decade and are available from a wide range of suppliers around the world.

At Pamoja, we offer schools and teachers two flexible online solutions which can help to overcome some of the issues which are exacerbated by high teacher turnover and recruitment difficulties. We have been working with the IB for 10 years, delivering Diploma and Career-related programme courses to schools around the world. This year, to celebrate our 10 year anniversary we’re expanding into IGCSE and International AS/A Levels curricular.

Our fully online Pamoja Taught courses are taught by qualified teachers who have experience and training in digital learning methodologies. These courses support schools’ digital strategies and can ease the challenges exacerbated by the teacher shortage. Our teachers deliver engaging and relevant courses online via our digital platform which is accessible to students 24/7. A Site-based coordinator at your school can monitor and track students’ progress through the platform as well as provide face-to-face student support when needed.

For schools needing a light-touch solution, our School Taught courses provide support and resources to teachers in the form of course content broken down into lessons and assessment materials. Using the ready-made multimedia lesson plans mean that teachers can spend less time planning lessons and more time focusing on the individual needs of their students. Having access to all the content needed to deliver a course can ease heavy workloads and give teachers the confidence they need to deliver lessons on subjects they may not be familiar with.

Online courses and other edtech solutions are by no means a replacement for traditional face-to-face teaching. At Pamoja, not only do we believe that edtech can help to solve challenges within the industry, we believe that ed tech is necessary in a world of evolving and fast-paced technological changes. As educators, it is our responsibility to support students and prepare them for their increasingly digital future.

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