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CE's Pen - August 2018

Ngā mihi nui, ngā mihi mahana, ngā mihi aroha. Tēnā kotou katoa. Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Kia orana, Nisa bula vinaka, Taloha ni, Fakalofa lahi atu, Ni hao, Namaste, and warm greetings.

With the worsening teacher shortage, especially in Auckland, it is high time for a hard look at policy settings that are creating unnecessary barriers to the profession. The unreasonable English language requirement for migrant teachers is one such barrier that has gone largely unrecognised, along with the effect on teacher supply for bilingual and immersion ECEs and schools.

A petition to Parliament to review the IELTs requirements has been started by the Early Childhood Council with the support of several Pasifika ECE organisations and the Mana Pasifika group, which is linked to the Auckland Languages Strategy Working Group that COMET coordinates.

Since 2011, migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds who want to teach in New Zealand have had to meet a very high level of literacy in English – a Level 7 on each of the four subtests of the IELTS test.  Level 7 on IELTS is a high, academic level of English literacy, one that most New Zealand professionals would have to study to achieve. It certainly doesn’t reflect the types of language and literacy needed for teaching, or indeed for most other professions. 

We agree with the ECC that the current IELTs requirement is a blunt instrument that harms the early childhood sector and, in particular, Pasifika bilingual and immersion ECEs. 

Several times over the past few months, leaders in Pasifika ECE centres have raised concerns with us about early childhood teachers born in the Pacific islands being unable to complete qualifications and/or become fully registered because of the IELTS requirements. As a result, some Pasifika ECEs are facing closure and others have already closed because they cannot get enough qualified teachers. 

The two Pasifika-focused ECE training courses (at AUT and Auckland University) both closed at the end of last year because they couldn’t get enough students enrolling who could pass the entry IELTS requirement. These courses are a huge loss to the ECE system and the Pasifika community. 

We hear the IELTS requirements are also affecting teachers from other language backgrounds, in both ECE and schooling.  

I am all for high standards for our teachers. I agree that our children need teachers with a high standard of language and literacy in the language of instruction, and in the lingua franca of the nation. 

However, I question whether the IELTS test is an appropriate measure and whether Level 7 is reasonable. I also question the rules around who has to sit the IELTS and who does not. The current system completely ignores the language skills these teachers bring in their first language(s), which is inequitable.

As convenor of the Auckland Languages Strategy Working Group, COMET is joining the call for Parliament to approve a review of the International English Language Test System (IELTS) by the Education Council. 

I encourage you to download a copy of the petition here, to sign it and to circulate it to your networks.