A serious shortage of schoolteachers is expected to develop over the next four years, Education Ministry officials said yesterday, as graduates of teacher training programs find the profession's salaries and working conditions increasingly unsatisfactory.

According to a recent report, though, that figure may be much lower than what officials originally feared.

The shortage is expected to be particularly acute among graduates certified to teach English, math and science, the officials said, and could reach as many as 8,000 unfilled positions. Core humanities subjects like history, literature and Bible studies could also be severely understaffed, they said.

Meanwhile, a Central Bureau of Statistics report recently submitted to the ministry indicates the primary reason for recent teachers' college graduates not entering the profession is its perceived low salaries, as well as the demanding nature of teaching and disciplinary problems among students.

The report, obtained by Haaretz, aimed to determine the percentage of graduates of pedagogical programs actually practicing the profession, and for what lengths of time.

The study looked at 2,700 students enrolled in 24 state-run colleges, including predominantly Jewish and Arab institutions as well as those following the state's curriculum for Jewish religious education. In contrast to previous studies that found roughly half of teaching program graduates went on to work as teachers, the new report indicated the figure to be much higher, at around 72.2 percent, meaning the shortage will not be as bad as originally thought.

The new data is expected to benefit teaching colleges in their ongoing battle with the education and finance ministries over state funding. Over the past six years funding for such institutions was reduced by approximately NIS 200 million, largely due to the accepted figure of only half of teaching graduates going on to be full-time teachers, a conclusion undermined by the statistics bureau's report.

The study found that over 75 percent of Jewish graduates who left, or never entered, the education system cited "low salaries" as the primary reason for their decision, though in the religious educational system that figure was much lower. Some 43 percent cited "lack of opportunities for advancement" as a central concern, 35 percent listed "difficulties dealing with disciplinary problems" and 33 percent noted "fatigue" or "wear and tear."

Among Arab graduates, 80 percent listed the shortage of available positions as having kept them from entering the profession.

Graduates who did enter teaching were questioned about their job satisfaction, and only 23 percent reported being satisfied with their pay. A large proportion of respondents also listed what they perceived as teachers' relatively low status in society as cause for dissatisfaction, as well as working conditions at schools. A full one fifth of respondents said they were dissatisfied with their decision to become teachers.

Still, a higher percentage of working teachers reported satisfaction with their relations with students and parents, and with the responsibility conferred on them by their positions.

One Education Ministry official involved in teacher training said his office "must address the difficulties of many teachers in contending with problems of discipline and violence among students."