By all accounts, it appeared to be a ridiculous situation.
On one hand, early childhood centres were complaining of a desperate shortage of teachers, while on the other, there were teachers born overseas who were desperate to help, but couldn't get registered.
The hurdle was a testing system called IELTS, designed to assess English proficiency. Without a pass rate on all four components, teachers can't register. Without registering, the teachers have to remain on minimum wage, without any chance of career progression.
After several years in this no-man's land, some felt they had to look for other jobs which would pay more, which meant saying goodbye to their dream of being registered teachers. Those who refused to give up faced expensive testing and tuition fees, with some teachers racking up bills of thousands of dollars in an effort to pass. Many failed the test repeatedly. One teacher had taken it nine times.
The irony is that many of these teachers have very good English. They have excellent reports from their centre managers who want to employ them.
The manager of an Auckland kindergarten says, "there are so many teachers stuck and cannot get registration due to this, and we are so desperate for teachers at the moment; it is driving me crazy trying to find one"; and a Wellington manager added, "my excellent teacher who is struggling with IELTS needs help NOW! I really feel that what is happening to her and others is sickening. She is an asset to my teaching team, but thanks to a corrupt system she cannot get her registration and be paid what she is worth."
The common complaint was that the teachers could easily pass the reading, listening and speaking components of the test, but the writing component proved elusive, with most scoring 6.5 out of the required 7 points, time and again.
Saleha Begum has failed IELTS three times, and she says it's particularly frustrating that, "you don't even get your marked results back to reflect and improve on." Like many others, she believes the test is unfair, "especially as I have been in New Zealand for my intermediate, secondary and tertiary schooling."
Another early childhood teacher, Razia Ali came forward with her personal story, recently featuring on Fair Go. Razia had failed IELTS five times, and spent about $13,000 on testing and tuition. She had the full support of her employers who approached the Teaching Council with glowing testimonies from teaching staff and parents, hoping to get Razia registered.
Their attempt failed, but they tried again at the same time that Fair Go approached the Teaching Council to say they were doing a story. This time, the Teaching Council gave Razia her registration. She was absolutely thrilled.
However, the random nature of registration approval, as seen with Razia, is one of the problems complained about by teachers. The Teaching Council sometimes uses its discretion to allow teachers born overseas to register, even though they have failed IELTS.
Giovanni Penaflorida, who has failed nine times, says he is, "disappointed with the inconsistency with how the Teaching Council determines who will be accepted [for registration] and who will sit the test."
All that is about to change for the better. This month, the Teaching Council has announced sweeping changes that will take effect from January 1 next year. They plan to offer a greater range of English test options and different ways to demonstrate language proficiency.
They say the discretionary process will be clearer, and that those teachers failing one component of IELTS can resit that particular component rather than the whole test. They will also allow automatic registration for those teachers who have done their schooling or tertiary qualifications in English in New Zealand, Australia, USA, UK, Republic of Ireland and Canada (excluding Quebec).
The full details of the changes can be found at this link.