AN ONLINE college is offering 100 extra student teacher places on its training courses in the coming year.
Hibernia College, the largest provider of teachers in the State, is offering more than 350 teacher training places this year in response to concerns that a possible 25 per cent increase in second-level students by the year 2026 will lead to a teacher shortage. The projected increase in student numbers at second level is considerably larger than originally predicted by the Department of Education.
Continuing high birth rates and data from the 2011 census indicate that student numbers will grow from 327,000 this year to 413,000 by 2026. Previous estimates had put the projected number for 2026 at about 383,000.
The department is already planning for a dramatic increase in enrolment at primary level over the next decade. But this new projection for second level will place further strain on the €9 billion education budget.
Educating a primary school teacher at undergraduate level in the teacher-training colleges, for example, is estimated to cost €30,000 per year.
Teacher unions are adamant that the department must employ more teachers in order to maintain current pupil-teacher ratios in the face of the increase.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland estimates that more than 4,500 teachers (about 320 a year) would need to be added to the second-level system over the period to 2026.
Students at Hibernia College pay almost €9,000 for the higher diploma in arts in primary education – its postgraduate primary teaching qualification – and the professional diploma in post-primary education, a post-primary teaching qualification. Demand is strong for both, according to the college, and the advantage to the State is that these teachers are trained at no cost to the exchequer.
Initially, the idea of online teacher-training was met with suspicion, but graduates are finding employment.
Hibernia College student teachers hold a level 8 degree at a minimum, with many students already possessing a masters, and at least one student in every programme holding a PhD.
While cost is a challenge to students, many find the flexibility of the online format more manageable than a full-time programme that would require them to relocate or leave their jobs.
While demand is high, Seán Rowland, president of Hibernia College, said the college did not want to flood the market with teachers. “We will monitor the situation as it evolves,” he said.
Journalist: Gráinne Faller