Who knew employers could “Import teaching without the teacher?” With remotely controlled robots, South Korean students are learning English from teachers in the Philippines.

Among the experimental school management models being tried around the world, virtual schools may represent the most concerted effort to eliminate or reduce the reliance on quality teachers. These experiments take a range of forms, some of which involve teachers in countries far removed from the schools’ base of operation. One example was flagged recently by Bartlett. Futuristic as it may sound, small penguin-shaped robots are being used to teach English to kindergarten students in South Korea. Initially, developers attempted to operate the Engkey (English jockey) robots with scripted programming, but the automated system was deemed too rigid.  Developers decided instead to employ overseas teachers to control the robots remotely from the Philippines. According to Bartlett, this allows “South Korean classrooms to import the teaching without the teacher, to pay the teacher at the much lower local wage, and to downplay the fact that the English teacher is Asian.” Such experiments are likely to continue in new and challenging ways, further blurring the national boundaries of the world’s teaching force.

More information

Bartlett, Lora. “Robots in the Classroom the Wrong Innovation.” San Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 2013.


Chris Keats, General Secretary of the NASUWT, sought to call attention to the practices of the UK’s teacher supply agencies and the precarious conditions of the teachers who work for them.  

“The practices of many offshore umbrella companies are proving to be damaging to supply teachers who are being forced into signing dubious contracts which seek to deny them basic legal rights and entitlements and allow these agencies to dodge their tax and national insurance liabilities.” (NASUWT, 2013)

Among the pool of supply teachers working in the UK is a large number of overseas-trained teachers, for whom supply work is the most accessible employment option without Qualified Teacher Status.  

Recruitment of supply teachers from overseas increased dramatically in the late 1990s, with the greatest shortages in London (Warner, 2010). While concrete data is not available, a DFES-funded study of 1554 supply teachers in 2006 had 126 overseas-trained teachers in its sample, suggesting a healthy representation. The international recruitment of supply teachers allowed for greater flexibility in addressing teacher vacancies, especially in more challenging schools, despite difficulties in the form of ‘cultural clashes’ (Maylor et al., 2006). 

NASUWT’s has documented severe problems with the practices of supply agencies, such as gag clauses and blacklisting of teachers who complain about their conditions. Interviews with South African migrant teachers identified problems with UK supply agency recruitment practices and contracts, such as agencies’ routine failures to reveal that they would be taking a cut of teachers’ daily wages, in addition to the upfront fees they receive from the schools (Manik, 2010). One return migrant declared, “Agencies are a rip‐off! The school paid 175£ per teacher per day. However, the agency only paid the teachers 90£.”(cf. link below). In addition, teachers were not informed that, due to the temporary nature of their positions at schools, they would not be entitled to paid sick leave or holidays. They were relegated to the status of hourly wage earners and risked a reduction in hours should they raise concerns. 


Manik, Sadhana (2010) “Covert Research: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater”,  University of Kwa-Natal, Durban, South Africa.

National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), “Teachers being exploited by unscrupulous supply agencies.” Press Release, March 9 2013

Warner, Lionel. “Overseas Trained Teachers: Part of a Problem or Part of a Solution?” Teacher Education Advancement Network 1 (2010).

In an attempt to lower cost and reach low-income families, low-cost private schools are emerging around the world. The schools pull migrant teachers and unauthorized students from public education systems.

Education privatization schemes rely on cost structures that keep labour costs lower than traditional public education to maximize potential for profit. Little research has been done to analyse these schemes through the lens of migration, but examples suggest intersections that warrant further examination. 

Low cost private schools

Low fee private schools are on the rise in countries from India to Nigeria and Brazil. They aim to create an alternative to public schools in poor communities. In South Africa, the number of schools believed to be in operation varies widely, but by all accounts their presence is growing. A study carried out by Sinyolo (2013) and interviews with officials from the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA) indicate that many of the unqualified migrant and particularly refugee teachers in South Africa are finding employment on fixed term contracts in these low fee private schools. With an average two years’ wait to have qualifications recognized, migrant teachers in South Africa often have little choice but to accept positions with the low wages and no benefits from independent schools or in governing board posts. According to Center for Development and Enterprise, what constitutes low fees in South Africa is still relatively high by international standards, preventing the sector from serving the very poor at present. As a result, further efforts are sought to reduce costs and increase subsidies in order to attract even more students away from the state school system. The ability to hire well trained and yet vulnerable teachers from Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo at low wages may prove to be one of the factors that helps these schools offer a low cost alternative to public education. 

Working conditions in low-cost private schools are usually worse than conditions in public schools. Do you agree? Please, join the online community to share your experiences.  


Center for Development and Enterprise (2013), Affordable Private Schools in South Africa, Johannesburg: CDE Insight.

Sinyolo, D. (2013). A Strategy for Managing Teacher Migration in Southern Africa: Principles, guidelines and policy considerations. Saarbrucken: Scholar's Press.



In the U.K. and U.S., privately operated public schools are on the rise. Globally, one Turkish cleric’s ideas link over 1,000 such institutions.

Privately operated “public” schools 

Privately operated public schools—charter schools in the United States and free schools in the United Kingdom—are expanding rapidly, totalling nearly 6,000 in the U.S. in 2013 and 174 in the U.K. Governed by widely varying policies and regulations, the schools operate on both a non-profit and for-profit basis, with some locally controlled by parents and educators, and others part of national or international chains with proprietary curriculum. In the U. S., nearly one in five students enrolled in charter schools attends a school operated by a for-profit management company (Gary et al., 2012). According to one analysis, charter schools in the U.S. sought to employ more than 4,000 teachers from abroad between 2002-2008. This amounts to roughly 5% of the international teacher recruits sought in that period in the country (Bartlett, 2014). A 2003 report on foreign teacher recruitment for the National Education Association estimated that 67% of the teaching positions certified by the Labor Department were for applications from public school authorities. The remaining third would have come from private and charter school employers (Barber, 2003).

In the landscape of international recruitment by American charters, one network bears further examination. A loosely affiliated network of at least 130 charter schools specializing in math and science in the U.S. has been connected to Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic cleric. American schools are part of a worldwide network of more than 1,000 Gülen-inspired schools in more than 100 countries. Uniquely, Gülen schools in the United States are publicly funded. Moreover, these schools applied for 771 three-year teacher visas in 2011 alone and are known to rely heavily on Turkish recruits to staff their schools. Taken together, these schools constitute the largest network of charter schools in the U.S.


Dashboard: A Comprehensive Data Resource. “Total Number of Schools.” Data for 2010-2011. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Department for Education. “Open free schools.” Accessed September 25, 2013.

Profiles of For-profit and Nonprofit Education Management Institutions: Thirteenth Annual Report—2010-2011

Gary Miron, Jessica L. Urschel, Mayra A. Yat Aguilar, and Breanna Dailey. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center, 2012.

Bartlett, Lora. Migrant Teachers: How American Schools Import Labor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Toppo, Greg. "Objectives of charter schools with Turkish ties questioned." USA Today, August 17, 2010.



Teacher migration in crisis situations leaves home countries with a deficit of trained professionals for rebuilding, and receiving countries scrambling to manage an influx of workers. Like most crisis migrants, teachers in these situations are vulnerable, and often unwillingly pushed from their profession.

The forced migration model describes situations in which migrants have fled their home country or region due to crisis. In the majority of cases, the migrant is in physical danger stemming from armed conflict, situations of generalized conflict, persecution, torture, serious human rights violations, natural or manmade disasters, or environmental degradation. Some cases of extreme economic collapse have also given rise to forced migration. In this model, migrants move by force, not choice, and receiving countries receive, rather than seek, the influx. Crisis migrants are often the most vulnerable, especially refugees and asylum seekers.

Even when forced to migrate due to violence and instability, teachers maintain a strong professional identity but encounter significant structural and practical hurdles. Nonetheless, teacher refugees from Burma and Syria have demonstrated tremendous initiative to organize themselves into teachers’ unions or councils in order to continue utilizing their skills and contribute to response and recovery efforts.

Survey Highlights

“Getting Teacher Migration and Mobility Right” found that about 10% of respondents cited instability, political upheaval and natural disaster among the top three reasons for going abroad, although only 91 said it was a major factor. Of the latter, nineteen were from Spain, twelve from Colombia, nine from Jamaica, seven from the Philippines and six from the United States, all countries that have experienced economic retrenchment, suggesting that economic factors are a strong incentive to migrate. Smaller numbers were from Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. 


For refugees and asylum seekers, circumstances depend on their legal status, the prevailing laws and regulations of the host country to which they have fled, and whether they are residing inside or outside of official refugee camps. The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees define who is a refugee, their rights (not to be returned to the country they fled) and the legal obligations of states. Countries that ratified the 1951 Convention are expected to “respect the right to asylum through the creation of national legislation” but they are not compelled to offer asylum. Thus, right to asylum and determination processes differ by country. Teachers may have unique motivations to seek asylum, especially where political violence targets education systems and teachers directly, as has been the case in Burma, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Palestine and Zimbabwe, to name but a few (Pswarayi & Reeler, 2012). 

In some refugee camps, the receiving government may insist on staffing schools first, primarily, or exclusively with teachers from the receiving country. Refugees with a secondary education are often allowed to teach in camps because there is a shortage of qualified teachers, due to low pay and difficult conditions. When these teachers leave, or are repatriated, the experience and credentials they earned in the camps are not likely to be recognized in the receiving or home country’s schools, especially if issued through an NGO or other informal provider (Penson et al. in Penson & Yonemura, 2011). Forced migrant teachers may “consider it wise to stay behind in the countries that trained them,” opting out of, or jeopardizing rebuilding efforts (Omolewa in Penson & Yonemura, 2011). For example, Liberian educators working in refugee camps in Guinea received training that was “better quality than the population would get access to in Liberia.” (Rose & Greeley, 2006) During post-conflict recovery, these teachers’ experience and training were not recognized. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and UNHCR supported initiatives to negotiate recognition of teacher qualifications with the Liberian Ministry of Education. 

Camps contain few qualified teachers (Barry in Penson & Yonemura, 2011). Teachers, like other salaried professionals, “may not have left with the rest, preferring to stay at home or move somewhere else in the country.” When they do flee, qualified teachers may be hired by non-governmental organizations or offered “escape scholarships” to other countries. Unlike lower-skilled refugees, they can resettle more easily and find jobs, when allowed, in the host country, but they often face challenges to remaining within the teaching profession. 

More than half the world’s refugees live in urban areas. Qualified teachers are often drawn to urban centres rather than remain in dangerous and crowded refugee camps. Their ability to find work as teachers in government schools depends on whether the host country permits non-nationals to work as teachers and whether there is a mechanism to evaluate their education and teaching credentials, which may have often been lost when they fled their home country.   

In this model, schools and governments in the receiving country are forced into a reactive posture.  Rather than recruiting teachers from abroad, they respond to an influx for which they are often ill prepared. Receiving governments rarely plan to incorporate forced migrant teachers into the labour market. New influxes of forced migrants represent a potential drain to the nation’s finances and the local or receiving population may resent or resist new arrivals, all of which may discourage receiving countries from recognizing credentials. When displaced teachers cannot find work in education, or struggle with financially untenable situations, they often leave the profession, resulting in de-skilling and the loss of a valuable pool of qualified labour.


Lloyd Pswarayi and Tony Reeler (2012), ‘Fragility’ and Education in Zimbabwe: Assessing the Impact of Violence on Education. Research and Advocacy Unit. Harare: RAU, 2012.

 Pauline Rose and Martin Greeley (2006), Education in Fragile States: Capturing Lessons and Identifying Good Practice. Sussex: Inter-Agency Network for Education and Emergencies.