A fall-off in the number of primary teachers volunteering for service in developing countries has been attributed to fears about losing jobs and work-related benefits at home.
Now, an urgent recruitment drive is under way with an assurance to teachers that pensions, PRSI and salary increments are covered while they serve overseas, and that their jobs will be there for them when they return.
A shortage of Irish volunteer primary teachers was noted in 2009, in marked contrast to other sectors, such as health and business, where applications rose sharply in response to the recession.
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), the largest independent volunteer placement agency in the world, said that, typically, about two-thirds of all Irish applications came from teachers, but in 2009 it was down to a quarter. In 2008, 65 teachers applied to VSO Ireland, while in 2009 it was down to 31
VSO Ireland director Malcolm Quigley said they knew that many teachers had fears about job security when deciding whether to volunteer abroad.
"They should have no such worries as their jobs and benefits remain in place and the experience they gain is seen as a good career move", he added.
He said that they were seeking teachers with at least three years' experience to serve in Africa and Asia for a period of two years. Volunteers are paid a local salary and VSO covers flights, insurance, vaccinations, training, medical insurance and accommodation.
Mr Quigley said that retiring or retired teachers were in particularly high demand because of their expertise.
"Irish volunteer teachers train local teachers who then go on to train other teachers in techniques which have made classrooms in developing countries more interactive," he said.
"That in turn has led to a decrease in pupil drop-out rates, and a big increase in teacher motivation in countries like Ethiopia, for example."
Becoming a VSO volunteer was not about taking time out and that research showed that teachers who have volunteered with VSO come back refreshed, more motivated, more resourceful, more flexible and more confident, said Mr Quigley
"All refer to the richness of their experience overseas and how it has helped them to be more understanding of different cultures and how to be resourceful with few resources," he said.
VSO works in 44 of the world's poorest countries, fighting the root causes of poverty and helping communities to build sustainable livelihoods, businesses and services.