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How can international schools thrive in a post pandemic world? An international teacher recruiter sheds light

17 Jan 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

International schools were among the hardest hit industries during COVID-19, with hard and soft border closures discouraging – or outright preventing – teachers from taking up overseas jobs.

China, where borders have only recently softened after a three year hard closure, is experiencing a mass exodus of teachers, with concerns its future demand for educators cannot be met. This year, around 40 percent of its teacher workforce is planning to leave the mainland – an additional 10 percent since 2021 and 25 percent since before the pandemic.

With border closures now largely behind us, how has the international school sector recovered; and are any recruitment challenges lingering?

Ahead of the International Schools Asia Conference, we spoke with international teacher recruiter– and owner of Edvectus – Diane Jacoutot. She shed light on what her research and experience is telling us about the current state of affairs and gives recommendations on how schools can respond.

Teacher candidates still weary of formerly COVID-strict countries

In a survey of 500 teachers, Diane’s company found that countries that had strict COVID policies were still off-putting for candidates, even if the policies were now dissolved.

Overall, the Middle East was the highest ranking location, with 65 percent of teachers citing it as a preferred destination for overseas roles.

Countries like China have declined in popularity since the start of the pandemic, with demand for international teachers now outstripping supply.

Diane says her company has regrettably been forced to stop servicing some China-based schools, because the global talent pool is too shallow to fill their vacancies.

“There is that lingering concern towards countries that had hard border closures,” Diane said. “Let’s not forget that teachers who were due to work in countries like China in 2020 lost their jobs without warning when the border closures came into play. Those already in the country have also had a difficult time without freedom of manoeuvre.

“It is hard for people to forget things like that; after years of uncertainty and loss of control, people crave more certainty and normality.

“Keep in mind that the international schools market is a sellers’ market for teachers. For many people, if presented with the choice of a country that’s come through the pandemic and one where it’s still unfolding they would need compelling reasons to go with the latter.”

Rising stars

Along with pandemic aftereffects, international schools also need to be weary of growing global competition.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia, for example, has become more liberal and is growing in appeal as an international education hotspot.

In a country where women were, until recently, legally prohibited from driving, Diane was surprised to encounter a woman taxi driver on her recent trip to the nation.

“The change is palpable – and the pace of it is even surprising the locals, most of whom welcome it. The religious police force has been disbanded. Women can now drive and are no longer required to wear headscarves. The country is growing in appeal because of its high salaries and low cost of living and is one to watch out for,” she said.

While schools may be powerless to effect cultural change in the countries in which they operate, Diane says they could help dispel cultural myths and entice more overseas teachers.

“Take Saudi as an example – while change is happening rapidly, many people outside of the country are not aware of it. Schools need to understand the cultural perceptions that may be deterring or attracting candidates to their countries, and target their marketing communications accordingly.”

Money talks

Diane also encourages schools to consider competitive remuneration to avoid a talent shortfall.

Her survey found that salary was the primary driving force for teachers in the international market.

So much so, that a growing number of candidates from relatively well-paying countries were opting to remain at home this year. The number of Australian teachers entering the international market, for example, dropped by 70-80 percent in 2022.

With cost of living on the rise, globally, Diane is not surprised by the findings.

“Millennials form the largest cohort of the international teacher market – and this is the cohort that has experienced the greatest cost of living increase and the lowest rise in salary.”

While money has always been important to teachers, it has only recently stolen the crown from professional development as the primary motivation for an overseas role.

“Professional development is still highly valued by teachers on the international market, but it is gradually being eclipsed by remuneration. Today 90 percent of teachers value professional development, whereas 99 percent prefer roles with higher salaries.

“It really does make sense when you look at the wider market. Twenty to thirty year olds, who are the biggest age group for overseas migration, cannot buy houses because the cost of living has risen faster than their salaries. People from countries with relatively generous teacher salaries are bypassing opportunities in South East Asia, despite the cultural appeal of living there, because they can no longer justify it from a financial perspective.”

The finding is consistent with the popularity of the Middle East as an international teaching destination.

“Teachers like the Middle East because there is a perception of higher tax-free salaries as well as inclusive packages that have free housing. It’s pretty appealing if finances are your priority. That said, 34 percent of our respondents said they wouldn’t consider the Middle East, so there are clearly other factors at play.”

Making accommodations

Diane’s experience tells her that schools who take steps to accommodate the families and pets of teachers will have an easier time attracting them.
For many this could be as simple as dispelling the myth that teachers with families are not welcome.

“There is a perception in the international teaching community, that candidates who have families are less attractive to host schools, because their children will take up the space of a fee paying student.

“While this may have formerly been the case, it simply isn’t an option for international schools to be this picky now. Schools should let teachers know that their families are welcome and make whatever accommodations are necessary for them to feel comfortable.

“International schools primarily service their own domestic nationals, so taking steps to help children of international teachers fit in with the local culture will also be highly valued by candidates.”

However, schools must also balance any cultural provisions with the need to attract culturally-sensitive candidates, Diane warns.

“You want to help candidates and their children feel comfortable in your culture. But at the same time, you don’t want to attract people that won’t respect your culture. It’s about getting the balance right.

“Even some of the world’s best teachers don’t make good international teachers. There are some who will say that countries with strict religious policies are shutting down their free speech, while others will recognise that they must respect the rules of a country they visit. The trick is to find good teachers who are also good travellers,” she concluded.

Diane will share more expert advice on how to attract more international teachers at the International Schools Asia Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be held 14-15 March at the Holiday Inn Bangkok.

Learn more and register your place here.


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