Ontario teacher shortage looming, educators warn

After years of having more teachers than there were jobs, Ontario teachers colleges are concerned cuts in 2015 are sending the province toward a teacher shortage.

Teachers colleges are concerned the province may have overcompensated in 2015

After years of oversupply, is Ontario heading toward a teaching shortage? (CBC)

Just three years after the Ontario government cut teachers college enrolment in half, the province may be heading toward a teacher shortage. 

"We're seeing a reduction in oversupply and that's going to continue." warned Richard Barwell, the dean of education at the University of Ottawa.

"I think there could be a shortage in a few years." 

In 2015, the Ontario government cut enrolment at teachers colleges by more than half, with the number of graduates dropping from 12,399 in 2015 to 5,480 by 2018.

The Liberal government also extended the programs to two years from one in a bid to stem more than a decade of bleak job prospects for teacher grads, with many choosing to leave the province or abandon the profession altogether to avoid languishing on supply lists.

"[That change is] providing a chance for the pool of teachers to get absorbed," Barwell said.

"That's what's happening now, but we need to think ahead. Once they're all absorbed, what are we going to do?"

The University of Ottawa's Richard Barwell said a recent cut in enrolment in teaching students across the province could end up leading Ontario toward a teacher shortage. (CBC)

Cut backfiring?

The heads of teachers colleges worry the dramatic cut in enrolment may have come too late, landing just as teacher retirements and student enrolment had already begun to rise.

This situation that could leave the province unable to meet demand in as early as five years, said Barwell.

For some French, technology and math jobs, the shortfall has already begun. 

"The next few years will require vigorous recruitment by Ontario's school boards," states the most recent annual report by the Ontario College of Teachers. 

Unemployment has been cut in half for all grads, states the report, while unemployment has virtually disappeared for new teachers with specific qualifications such as teaching French.

Meanwhile, supply teacher lists are dwindling, with boards throughout the province scrambling to fill supply teacher positions.  

"They want to snap up our students to be supply teachers before they're even finished, and we say 'No you can't do that,'" said Rebecca Luce-Kapler, the dean of education at Queen's University, which graduates more than 400 students a year. 

She said the province may need to consider funding more teachers college positions again to deal with the shortfall.

Demographic change

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board has begun a more aggressive hiring campaign this year caused by a double whammy of increased retirements and a rise in enrolment.

Mike Carson with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board said enrolment has started to increase as more teachers retire. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

The number of teachers deciding to retire has grown from 121 during the 2015-2016 school year to 170 during the 2017-2018 period.

At the same time, enrolment has begun to grow after being flat for several years, according to the OCDSB.  

"Those have all combined to drive an increase in hiring," explained Mike Carson, the chief financial officer for the board, adding it's hiring more than a hundred teachers this year. 

​The province reached out to the deans of teachers colleges and other teaching organizations to flag its own concern about the teaching challenges in a meeting this spring.

New model on the way

Barwell and Luce-Kapler said a key issue was concern over the outdated forecasting models used to assess  demographic change.

The models weigh future trends for enrolment, retirement, immigration and even the growing tug of attractive job offers from outside Ontario for teacher graduates. 

In response, the province commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to develop new "supply and demand forecasting models … So we can be more responsive to emerging teacher supply issues," according to a statement provided by a ministry of education spokesperson. 

The ministry hopes the new tool will help better determine next moves as it adjusts to "teacher supply and demand pressures."

"To the ministry's credit, they recognized that their data was not particularly strong," said Luce-Kapler.

About the Author

Amanda Pfeffer

Amanda Pfeffer has worked for the CBC across the country, including Montreal, Vancouver, Fredericton, Quebec City and Ottawa. She welcomes story ideas and tips at amanda.pfeffer@cbc.ca.

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