The number of applicants to teacher education programs in Ontario is down to its lowest level in 15 years, as bleak job prospects continue to discourage new entrants to the field. The trend has some faculties of education reducing the numbers of contract faculty they employ, revamping courses and introducing new niche programs to attract students.
The figure fell to 9,118 in April, down almost 13 percent from 10,453 last year and a peak of 16,520 in 2007, according to the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre. The number of applicants now sits at levels last seen in 1997 and 1998 and could drop further still, predicted Frank McIntyre, a researcher at the Ontario College of Teachers.
“The employment situation is continuing to get more and more challenging for new teachers,” Mr. McIntyre said. “I’m sure some faculties this year aren’t meeting funded enrolment levels,” he added.
Enrolment in Lakehead University’s teacher education program has declined by about 200 spaces over the past six years to about 820. As a result, the faculty of education is offering fewer sections of some courses and hiring fewer part-time contract faculty, said John O’Meara, Lakehead’s dean of education.
Some deans in the province reported receiving a directive from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities stating its intention to begin talks on ways to address the falling demand for teacher education. The provincial government cut funding for teacher education programs in 2010, reducing the number of funded spaces by about 850 over three years.
The previous government of Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty had pledged to extend new teacher education programs to two years from one. If the new government proceeds with the plan while maintaining current funding levels, as proposed, this would further reduce the number of graduates the province produces. Mr. McIntyre said discussions are under way between the provincial government, the faculties of education and other groups on ways to increase the intensity of teacher-training programs. “We are getting to the point now where the number of applicants in a year is very close to the number of funded spaces,” he said.
In Ontario, teacher candidates usually complete an undergraduate degree and then a one-year Bachelor of Education. Making the program two years instead of one would reduce the number of new students each year and bring the length of Ontario’s program in line with those of most other provinces, Lakehead’s Dr. O’Meara said. Some schools also offer concurrent programs in which students complete their undergraduate degree and a BEd at the same time.
A task force that the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education created to review its teacher education program has recommended, among other options, eliminating its one-year undergraduate program in favour of a two-year graduate degree. OISE dean Julia O’Sullivan told the Toronto Star, “We are all aware that this is a challenging time with respect to teacher education in the province of Ontario, given the surplus of teachers and the consideration of reducing teacher education spots in Ontario universities.” OISE didn’t respond to a request for comment from University Affairs.
Fiona Blaikie, dean of education at Brock University, cautioned against attempts by government “to control market demand” for teacher education positions, arguing the effort could backfire and lead to future shortages. Still, Brock’s faculty of education and others are revamping programs to attract more students and maintain enrolment levels. Brock offers professional development and other programs that focus in part on alternative careers for teachers. It has launched a popular occasional-teacher course geared to supply and short-term contract teachers and has expanded its offerings of overseas practicums, Dr. Blaikie said.
Ryerson University and York University recently announced plans to introduce this fall a joint, five-year concurrent bachelor of arts in early childhood studies and a bachelor of education. Graduates will be able to work either as early-childhood educators or as teachers, as Ontario moves to fully implement full-day kindergarten programs by 2014.
Other provinces see falling applications
Faculties of education in other provinces and regions are also feeling the pressure. “It’s not a phenomenon that’s unique to Ontario,” said Sal Badali, dean of education at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. “It’s coast to coast.” Before moving to MSVU in 2012, Dr. Badali served as dean of education at Brandon University and prior to that, as associate dean at the University of Regina.
An August 2012 report by the Nova Scotia department of education forecast that the number of teachers in the province would decline by almost 13 percent by 2017-18 from 2008-09. Aside from a few isolated shortages in some rural and subject areas, “there is recognition that efforts must be made to prevent a continued general oversupply” of teachers, the report said.
Dr. Badali said MSVU, where enrolment is expected to hold steady in the 2013 fall term, is offering teacher candidates more optional field placements in non-traditional settings such as museums and community organizations, besides mandated classroom practicums. In the 2012 academic year about 30 or 40 of about 200 teacher-education students opted for a non-traditional placement.
In British Columbia, the number of applicants has declined in recent years although the University of British Columbia, with the largest faculty in the province, recently reported signs of a rebound, said Sandra Bruneau, executive director of the Association of B.C. Deans of Education. “It’s a mixed picture throughout the province and even internally within programs,” she said.
The oversupply of teachers in many parts of the country – with the possible exception of Saskatchewan – is largely the result of a decline in the proportion of school-aged children. At the same time, fewer teachers are retiring. The situation is most pronounced in Ontario, Mr. McIntyre said. A report by the Ontario College of Teachers, the provincial regulatory body, said job opportunities started to decline in the province in 2003 and have continue to do so since then. Mr. McIntyre, who prepares the annual report, said teacher retirements are expected to continue averaging about 4,500 a year over the next decade while the average number of new teachers has been increasing by about 12,200 a year. Ontario’s move to full-day kindergarten has opened up some new job opportunities. “But, when you add all those things up, it doesn’t come out to very many new jobs a year,” he said.