Thousands of education students will receive scholarships worth up to $40,000 as part of the federal government’s push to boost the number of teachers across the nation.
The scheme will offer 5000 scholarships to teaching students who begin studying next year, specifically targeting high-achieving school leavers, mid-career professionals, First Nations people, those from remote or regional Australia, students living with disabilities, and those with English as a second language.
But the plan to address Australia’s chronic teacher shortage has already drawn some blowback, with one group suggesting it will “skew” the recruitment of teachers towards government schools.
Any scholarship recipient must commit to teaching in government-run schools or early learning settings for at least four years if they are an undergraduate student, and at least two years for postgraduates.
The ‘commitment to teach’ stipulation arose from consultation with school principals and teachers who referred to their own scholarships with similar requirements.
“Tying scholarships to a commitment to teach is an old school idea that will help tackle today’s teacher workforce challenges,” Education Minister Jason Clare said in a statement.
“Teachers do one of the most important jobs in the world, but we just don’t have enough of them … (the scholarships) will help 5000 of the best and brightest teaching students to complete their studies and begin changing lives in the schools who need it most.”
As part of the $160 million investment, undergraduate students can receive $40,000 over four years, while postgraduates could receive up $20,000 over two years.
Teaching students who complete their placements in remote communities could receive an additional $2000.
But the National Catholic Education Commission wants their schools included in the ‘commitment to teach’ portion of the scheme, citing teaching needs in non-government facilities.
“There is a long-established recognition of school choice by successive governments that ensures support for all schools according to need,” executive director Jacinta Collins said in a statement.
“To favour one sector over another creates an uneven playing field and makes it extremely difficult for Catholic and other low fee schools to attract teachers, parents … will carry the burden.”
Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson said backing teachers in from day one was “absolutely essential”.
“Attracting teachers to the profession is a big part of the challenge, so this initiative is a positive and important step,” she said in a statement.
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Kat Wong and Alex Mitchell
(Australian Associated Press)