Heavy workload, lack of professional development, poor leadership, poor working conditions, and lack of career mobility prompted our teachers to leave. In doing so, Bhutan’s education system lost experienced teachers who were in their mid-career profession, according to a study conducted by the Centre for Bhutan and GNH Studies (CBS).
Titled “Teacher Attrition: Why do Public Teachers Leave?” the study conducted in December last year indicated that the majority of teachers who left the profession were between the age of 31 to 40 years and those who served the profession for more than 11 years. This is a concern because replacing seasoned teachers is a challenge.
Globally, according to research, a mid-career professional often develops expertise in one or more areas. These professionals often look for promotional opportunities or a new career alternative, including work-life balance.
Today, the talk of the town, apart from Bhutanese leaving for Australia and other countries, is many teachers exiting the system. The issue is not new but it is still a vital issue that needs immediate attention.
Teachers across the globe have the responsibility of preparing future generations, our youth, whom our nation’s future lie. This is why education plays a vital role where effective teachers and quality of education are important for that matter.
Using mixed methods, both qualitative and quantitative, the study was conducted using Annual Education Statistics as secondary data. Primary data was obtained using an online survey through Google Forms where 84 former teachers residing in Bhutan and abroad participated in the survey.
The study aimed to determine the factors from the perspectives of both former and serving teachers.
There is a need for comprehensive and well-designed research on teacher attrition with a detailed database of teaching professionals. Well-designed research would give a clearer picture of how attrition is designed and investigated in the education ministry.
“The Annual Education Statistics also needs reform, whereby, the ministry could focus on detailed information on the attrition. It must include teachers’ performance and job satisfaction instead of only indicating several teachers leaving the profession every year.”
The attrition from the profession in this study refers to the exit of teachers from teaching in primary and secondary education in Bhutan.
One of the biggest challenges for both developed and developing countries is teacher attrition. Considered a concern, many researchers over the world have described the trend as worrying. A developing country like Bhutan is lagging behind in teacher attrition.
Although more than 50 percent of teachers (respondents) agreed that the teaching profession was their first choice, they left the profession. This indicated various factors forced them to leave, including better prospectives/alternatives they availed over teaching.
Going to Australia or joining other agencies topped the reasons too. More than 50 teachers agreed to have left the profession because of unsatisfactory jobs.
As one of the respondents expressed: “I didn’t quit teaching but the system that was rigid and uncompromising where teachers are only expected to bear the burden of providing quality education without even providing a proper textbook.” Other respondents added teaching was becoming an ordeal because of the intense work pressure without any recognition or incentives, forget about getting any ex-country tours and trips.”
Literature reviews also indicated that teacher attrition has often suggested/concluded that salary levels, supportive leadership, better working facilities, including class size and availability of textbooks, and their relationship with principals are some of the factors that lead to teacher attrition.
The study results, based on thematic analysis that emerged from the data collected through the open-ended survey, revealed gaps like heavy workloads. Many schools looked aimless with teachers involved in other non-academic activities besides normal teaching workload and planning everyday lessons. Teachers in remote places are faced with challenges of poor infrastructures. These could have substantially influenced teachers to leave teaching.
As one of the respondents wrote; “We are expected to give good education to students, but we’re often pulled in a committee meeting, teachers meetings, class meetings, parents meetings, implement policy decision that we were never part of, endless meetings that could have been conveyed via an email, including administration works. But when we want to teach students out of the box, everyone has a problem that teachers are not doing their job.”
Literature has also often pointed out that working conditions often influence teachers’ decisions to continue the profession or not. Working condition includes class size, facilities, availability of textbooks, relationship with principals, and teacher support. Today, Bhutanese teachers work in over-populated classrooms with 1:40 and in some cases, more than 40 students.
This is why there is a requirement to conduct a working conditions survey that could gather teachers’ views on the school environment. Fixing working conditions are less expensive than the costs of teachers’ dissatisfaction, loss, and retention, as various studies suggest.
Another gap that needs attention includes the lack of professional development. This is because when too much is expected from teachers to meet education quality, we are also talking about the quality of teachers that could be enhanced through pedagogy development, among many others. It includes workshops and long/short-term training.
The study saw that about 64 percent of respondents clearly responded that they rarely (once a year) got an opportunity to attend pedagogy development to enhance their career or be part of other important education consultations.
It is often said that good leaders will not only influence the dynamics of the school functions, but their leadership will also inspire and motivate teachers. What happens when a leader or the leadership style fails? It leads to frustration, disappointment and demotivation among teachers and despite the good relationships with subordinates, it leaves teachers with no choice, but to leave their teaching jobs for other jobs.
The majority of teachers in the open-ended questions in the study cited “biased, fixed mindset and unappreciative” leaders as the reasons that forced them to leave the profession too.
Since the data has indicated leadership as one of the major factors, it is vital that there is a requirement for radical change in the leadership selection procedures. Research has also proven that there is a requirement to have competent, motivating, visionary, diligent people as principals or for that matter, vice principals too, if attrition is to be taken seriously.
As one respondent is quoted, “The leader should be the main source of support and encouragement for enthusiastic and experienced teachers to return but this is not happening. This is why there is a need to look into how a leader which could be a principal or education officer is appointed.”
Salary— is not always the factor
When teachers continued to leave in scores, the government decided to increase their salary in 2019. It was to make the teaching profession attractive. Teachers became the highest-paid civil servants. Yet, the education system continues to see teachers resigning.
In the last three years (2019 to 2021), a total of 613 voluntarily resigned from the system (during the study period). This indicates that salary raise had not much impact. As much as remuneration/salary increase can be a factor, it may not be everything for teachers because what teachers also look for is recognition and acknowledgement for their hard work.
Instead, it is important that apart from increasing salary, certain strategies should be adopted that could reward teachers above their salary. Teacher support, reducing class size, increased participation in the educational decisions, recognition and teacher support could be possible strategies.
Anyone seeking the report can contact the CBS
Yangchen C Rinzin
Centre for Bhutan and GNH Studies