Putting out a fáilte for migrant teachers
A new project aims to seek out and support foreign-trained teachers in gaining full recognition in Ireland, writes Katherine Donnelly
At last count, Census 2016, almost 12pc of the population were from migrant communities. That amounts to one in eight of the population - they or their families have come here from almost 200 countries.
Obviously, the figure is mirrored in the education system, to varying degrees: depending on the area, some schools have very high concentrations of pupils from different ethnic backgrounds.
But what is much harder to find in classrooms are teachers from those communities.
The teaching profession in Ireland is predominantly Irish, at primary level in particular. Research in recent years found that more than 95pc of trainee teachers were "white Irish".
The huge change in the profile of the general population over the past decade and more makes its own case for a more diverse teaching cohort to reflect that transformation.
Among that 12pc are many foreign-trained teachers who find it extremely difficult to get a job in this country, despite the wealth of experience and perspective that they bring with them.
"International research shows the benefits to schools and students of having a diverse teaching staff, including promoting integration," says Dr Rory Mc Daid, project coordinator of The Migrant Teacher Project, which is aiming to address the imbalance. The project is being coordinated at Marino Institute of Education teacher training college and is funded by the Office for the Promotion of Integration of Migrants in the Department of Justice and Equality.
There is another good reason for Ireland to encourage foreign-trained teachers to work in our schools: the current teacher shortage, at both primary and second-level.
"We know that there are migrants living in Ireland who are qualified teachers. But even though we currently have a teacher shortage, it can be difficult for these internationally educated teachers to get their qualifications recognised and enter the workforce," says Mc Daid.
At second-level, there are well-documented shortages of teachers in subjects including Irish, maths, sciences - particularly physics and chemistry - home economics and foreign languages. The primary system is also showing evidence of an emerging shortfall.
The Marino team say processes for having qualifications recognised and applying for teaching posts can be difficult to navigate, especially without local knowledge and contacts. On the other side of the equation, they say many schools are not aware of the benefits of having migrant teachers on their staff.
Mc Daid, and his colleague on the project, Dr Emer Nowlan, know there are many immigrant and internationally educated teachers working in areas such as adult education, or as special needs assistants, and they are keen to hear from them.
Nowlan cites a number of examples, including a French national who qualified as a second-level teacher of English and French in the Sorbonne in France. She gained registration initially as an English teacher, and is now in the process of getting registered for French. In another example, a qualified teacher from Croatia is working as a special needs assistant (SNA).
The Migrant Teacher Project was launched two weeks ago and judging by the initial response, there is no shortage of foreign-trained teachers ready to answer Ireland's call.
Within a few days, teachers of 20 different nationalities, all living in Ireland, were in touch, including those trained in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Brazil, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands.
To teach in a State-funded position in Ireland, teachers must be recognised by the Teaching Council and so must satisfy its particular requirements. For a primary school teacher, a key requirement is proficiency in Gaeilge.
A starting point for the two-year project is identifying barriers to employment for internationally-educated teachers. This will be followed in 2018-19 by the Migrant Teacher Bridging Programme, which will supplement a teacher's knowledge and skills, and help them gain employment in Irish schools. Other elements of the project include information and professional development for employers and a support network for internationally educated teachers.
"This project is designed to open up pathways for these teachers to access employment, with benefits for both individual teachers and the school communities where they work," says Mc Daid.
Finian McCutcheon is principal of Educate Together Primary School Balbriggan and says teachers must reflect the diversity in their schools.
His 400-pupil school has a particularly rich mix of students of different ethnic backgrounds, but he says it is "very important for all schools because pupils are living in an ethnically diverse society".
His call for greater diversity within the profession is not confined to ethnic minorities but to all under-represented groups. "It is important that children in schools see role models from their own community who have the status of being a teacher," he says.
Immigrant and internationally educated teachers living in Ireland who want to enter the workforce as well as principals, boards of management and school management bodies are invited to contact the Migrant Teacher Project at: firstname.lastname@example.org.