Thursday, November 03, 2011

Problems and Solutions to Singapore’s Education System – Part 4

This is the last post of a four part discussion on education, interested readers can read from the first post.

Teachers, or rather the lack of good old-fashion responsible teachers, the inability of the system to retain the talented ones, the low teacher to student ratio, the mind-boggling ECA workload, the long hours are all the woes we hear about teaching.

It is said that being a teacher is no longer about teaching. It’s about writing proposals to help the school win awards or about going through motion since the students would then learn from the private tutors anyways. Even better, teaching is simply a way to get oneself out of the unemployment ratio.

I believe the whole teacher/teaching system is due for a huge revamp. The solutions are pretty straight forward to me although I must admit this is just really from my layperson point of view.

1. The admin workload of writing proposals, involved in ECAs

It is pretty clear that there is a need to increase admin headcounts for these jobs. Teachers are supposed to teach and they should be compensated for teaching and rewarded for being able to teach well ie the students genuinely love learning from the good teachers and their grades improve when they get a good form teacher.

As for the admin staff, they would be involved in the ECAs, the awards, event organizations and their compensation would reflect their output on these jobs.

2. Inability to retain talent

Partly related to the first point, as teachers spend more time doing work that they don’t like, working long hours but getting less satisfaction, is it a wonder that most good teachers would leave to become private tutors? Of course, we forgot to mention that teachers’ salaries have not risen to match other professions bcos it is not set by the market, but by the Govt.

Hence the solutions are pretty simple. Make teaching enjoyable again by reducing the workload, reducing the working hours and increasing the pay of teachers. In the old days, I believe teachers would be in the top quartile of income earners in Singapore. It was regarded as a profession, and a noble one. Today, as income rises exponentially, teachers are no longer earning as much in a relative sense and private tuition pays bcos it is set by the market. As we have discussed, since the whole system creates these scarcity premiums all over the place, prices skyrocket and the best teachers leave to become private tutors. And the best private tutors charge the best prices.

3. Overall lack of teachers

It is a well-known fact that our teacher to student ratio has not improved in the past 20 years. It was one teacher to forty students then, it still is today! We don’t have enough teachers! Why? Bcos they keep leaving to become private tutors and we keep importing foreigners and their children to our schools. So we are back to square one, we need to make teaching a job that people covet. We need to increase the pay, reduce the working hours and improve the working environment.

There might also be a need to de-emphasize the ECAs and the awards so that schools focus on what is most important: the students and their learning experience.

4. Performance assessment of teachers

Currently, there are also situations where teachers who excel in doing ECAs get promoted bcos this work is more visible and definitely what the principal needs. Real teachers who just want to impart knowledge are marginalized.

Hence we are back to the first point where teachers should simply teach, and admin staff can handle the ECAs. And the performance of teachers should be based solely on their teaching ability. Also the principals should not be judged on how many awards the school wins, or how well they do their ECAs.

The focus should be on the children and their learning experience. Education in the early years should be about learning basic stuff in a more holistic manner. It’s not just about mathematics, science and languages and high stakes exams. It should be about nature, music, art, history, hands-on, sports etc.

The best teachers are those who have the passion to help our children learn about all these. They have the knowledge, the patience and the enthusiasm to teach and they should be judged by these yardsticks. Not quantitative measures like how many awards, or how many initiatives.

Teaching should be made noble again and learning fun.

See all posts!
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

There is also more discussion on kiasu parents.
Post a Comment