After more than a decade of laying off teachers, Canadian school boards face teacher shortages as tens of thousands of baby boomers retire.
Kit Krieger, president of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation,blamed early retirement incentives plans, which allow full pensions at 55, for the first teacher shortage in 20 years.
In Saskatchewan province, 27 per cent of the 12,072 teachers are soon to retire.
But hardest hit is Ontario, the country's largest province, where such incentives pushed the number retiring to 10,000 in 1998. In a once-only measure, school boards filled these positions with teachers who had been supply teaching for three to four years.
Ontario's College of Teachers is seeking to re-recruit retired teachers. They can teach up to 95 days - half a school year - for three years after quitting without endangering their pensions.
Margaret Wilson, registrar of the college, warned: "More than 78,000 of the province's 130,000 primary and secondary school teachers will retire over the next 10 years. Unless something is done, there won't be enough new graduates coming on stream."
She said the applicant pool had been steadily diminishing over the past 10 years, probably because of a prevailing mood of "teacher bashing" in Canada.
The situation has also aggravated Canada's traditional shortage in specialty areas. "We've always had a problem filling maths and physics positions, French language, fine arts and other specialised positions," said Dr Roy Wilson, president of the Canadian School Boards Association.
According to the Ontario College of Teachers, 77 education students concentrated on secondary school technology but 1,524 teachers in that subject will retire by 2004.