The shortage of qualified teachers is an ongoing issue the Department of Education and the employing authority of the government, the Public Service Commission is trying to address.
High teacher turnover is a concerning issue in other countries including New Zealand but its impact is felt worse in Niue where the salaries offered are much lower compared to their NZ counterparts.
However, Director of Education Birtha Togahai said the situation is being managed as they start the school term. “Niue is not the only country facing a severe teacher crisis like New Zealand and other places in the Pacific. But we’ve managed to do the interviews and fill all the vacancies.”
Together with the Public Service Commission, the Education department holds regular recruitment from overseas mainly from the Philipines and Fiji but there are always risks when the teachers are offered better-paid teaching positions in New Zealand, after working in Niue for a number of years.
This was the case recently when a few of the expatriate teachers went on holiday and decided not to return, something Birtha Togahai said was ‘discourteous’ not to inform the Department early so they can look for their replacements.
“Some of our teachers went on holiday and did not return and that’s a bit discourteous. We’ve already told them if you are planning to migrate next year let us know in advance so we can prepare ahead. For the time being, some of our teachers will be returning but at the moment I’ve been reassured by the principals that all the classes have teachers.”
Meanwhile, the principal of Niue Primary School, Carol Edwards told BCN News that staffing is their biggest challenge and she almost asked not to start the school term this week.
“Staffing is our biggest challenge. I almost sent an SOS out to please hold school for a little bit longer. We know that the plane didn’t come last Friday so that was one of our staff members that were supposed to come off the plane.
“We have a couple of other staff members that are in New Zealand, one for health reasons, and another one her house got flooded so she has to spend an extra week down there. So we were pretty short to start off with. We have a couple that is going on leave so we will all-in-all got about five”, said Edwards.
For the secondary school, since the release of the results of the 2022 NCEA external exams, sources told BCN News that the results revealed a high failure rate in their external exams for the senior students of Niue High School.
This has raised concerns by some parents about the qualifications of teachers, teaching NCEA-level courses. It’s understood that one of the subjects with the highest failure rate with their external exams was Physics. The vacant position of a Physics teacher for Niue High school has still not been filled since the beginning of 2022.
BCN News reached out to the Public Service Commission with questions regarding the use of student teachers as full teachers in the classroom.
The Commission responded by saying that “These trainee teachers have work/ study program attached to the schools for one or two years before they go away to complete their training overseas, similar to other trainee positions in the service.”
Carol Edwards said in this situation they are welcoming any help from teachers and even former principals have returned to help the school.
“We’ve shuffled our teachers around to try and fill the gaps so we have to make sure that our children have a teacher in the classroom. We are grateful for a New Zealand teacher who is here on holiday Mrs. Joy Ikiua and we are grateful to her because we didn’t even need to ask her, she just called up and said do you need any help and I said you are a God-send to come and help us”.
The teaching staff situation is a big problem for the government and this was demonstrated when during the interview with BCN News, the Director of Education asked “If you know anyone looking for a teaching job, we are hiring at the moment.”
But this should not be happening at the start of the school term. The recruitment drive for teachers should have been done months ago, to avoid being put in a position where anyone who is willing to teach, whether or not they are fully qualified is offered a classroom of impressionable young minds to teach and the responsibility to mould into the future leaders of Niue.
There is 35 teaching staff at Niue High School and 22 at Niue Primary School. The Public Service Commission did not disclose how many of these are student teachers (trainees) or teachers without formal qualifications.
At the annual Education Retreat last week, the Minister of Education Hon. Sauni Tongatule spoke of this year’s theme about investing more in education and prioritising education.
BCN News send him questions to the office of the Minister as to what the government’s plans are to invest more in education and if this included additional scholarships for training more teachers but did not receive a response.
The Niue government’s annual spending on the Education Department which includes the staffing, management, and transport of students to the two schools is just under $4 million dollars. This does not include the funding of the training or scholarships offered by New Zealand and Australia for teachers to be trained in either Fiji or New Zealand.