Teacher attrition a national concern

At least one teacher abandons the profession in Bhutan everyday.

The education ministry relieved 120 teachers in the last five months. Teachers leaving the profession have always remained a concern, but when they leave in the middle of an academic session, the situation is grim.

For years we have grappled with teacher attrition and for years we have dismissed the trend to the demands of the profession. We have often assumed that those who chose to leave were not meant to be teachers in the first place, incentives or no incentives. The blame, it appears has always been on the teachers.

But when we have teachers leaving between academic sessions, amid initiatives worth millions that are expected to reform the education system, we have a problem. When the average number of teachers leaving each month in the last five months is higher than the average number of those leaving each month a year, we have a problem.

Last year, 200 teachers voluntarily resigned compared with 120 so far this year. That means at least 16 teachers left a month a year compared to 24 a month this year. Such records show that we have a problem that needs to be addressed urgently. We need to find out why our trained teachers are leaving the noble profession despite efforts to retain them? We need to understand how those that are left behind would cope with the work burden when they return to schools. What about the students who return to schools that have not enough teachers?

The National Council’s recent review on the quality of education cited that over 101 teachers applied for two vacant posts of programme officer in the education ministry. The willingness of our trained and qualified teachers to abandon teaching, which is apparent in this example, is a sad development.

It is not that we do not know the reasons for their resignations. Teachers cite increasing workload, limited professional development, poor working conditions and remunerations for giving up their teaching career. Nor is it that efforts have not been made to address these challenges. Yet, we are unable to retain teachers who have invested years of their lives in a profession that the country still respects and values.

There is a need to go beyond incentives and political promises to attract and retain teachers. We may need to review how our teacher training colleges are grooming young minds to become teachers and also assess those who are aspiring to become one. While at it, we must also appreciate those who chose to stay in the teaching sector, taking the increased workload and planning lessons to impart education to the country’s future.

That’s why it is both frightening and saddening when the prime minister said a few months ago that the high teacher attrition rate is not a concern. Choosing to believe that teachers are leaving not because they are unhappy with their profession but for better opportunities abroad does not help address the challenge the education ministry is struggling with.

Our policymakers need to be more than concerned to address the challenges facing the noble profession. Our teachers, who have contributed much in building our nation, have to be always at the centre of nation building.

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