There are growing concerns about the shortage of local teachers in the Cook Islands as fewer qualify and those that do chase the money overseas.
To combat the shortage, the University of the South Pacific has introduced an accelerated teaching degree that can be completed in the Cook Islands in just two years.
University director Debi Futter-Puati said schools were being forced to fill the gaps by calling older teachers out of retirement.
“We have a shortage of teachers with quite a few retired teachers back teaching due to the shortage, so I have put this idea together in an attempt to help with the shortage,” she said.
The full-time in-country degree will be recognised in Cook Islands, but also in other countries. It is a response to community calls for “upskilling”, Futter-Puati said.
Tereora College principal Tania Morgan said many students from Tereora College had been interested in gaining a teaching degree, so the accelerated degree would definitely help young Cook Islanders.
But there are calls to do more: Government is being asked to invest in teachers’ pay, to encourage more locals to become teachers here.
Morgan said teachers should be paid their worth and there had been ongoing discussions with the Ministry of Education to look into improvements for teachers pay.
She believed government should contribute a portion of the country’s record $55 million surplus to secondary schooling.
Jane Taurarii, the acting Secretary for Education, acknowledged a lot of teachers were choosing to work overseas, but that didn’t mean Cook Islands teachers were being underpaid.
Lionel Brown, a retired Cook Islands teacher who had been relieving at Tereora College, said many qualified Cook Islanders preferred to work in New Zealand because they could get better pay and progress their career.
Granted, the education system in the Cook Islands had leapt forward with the adoption of the New Zealand Curriculum, he said, but teachers found living here was expensive and it was hard to make ends meet.
37 years and still,
‘I love teaching’
It may be hard to recruit and retain teachers – but there are some teachers who love the job too much to leave.
Tereora College has presented carved trophies to carpentry teacher Thomas Savage to mark his 37 years at the school, and to Cook Islands Maori teacher Taiti Hosking to celebrate 23 years.
“I love working as a teacher,” says Savage. “I love teaching carpentry.”
There are struggles to recruit more local teachers, he says. Even when Cook Islanders are awarded scholarships and bonded to return and work on the island, they never come back.
But he hopes the University of the South Pacific’s accelerated teaching degree will entice more people to become teachers – it’s an opportunity he wishes he had back in the day.
Before Savage worked at Tereora College he had spent three years in the teachers training college that used to operate in Rarotonga, and later spent two years teaching at Avarua primary school.