Fri, Feb 13, 2009
Teach for love of the job, not glamour: Denise Phua

By Kor Kian Beng

DARK jackets and boots do not sit well with the image of a teacher, Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) argued yesterday as she took issue with a recent Education Ministry recruitment advertisement.

The Jan 24 ad she saw in The Straits Times 'over-glamorised' the profession.

While Ms Phua applauded the ministry's move to speed up hiring plans, the ad made her worry about the motives and aptitude of applicants.

They may view teaching as 'a relatively high-paying job that provides the iron rice bowl complete with school holidays, and hopefully a less stressful environment than the private sector'.

The ad featured six education professionals - including a principal, teacher, department head and project manager at the ministry - clad in jackets and boots.

It would make more sense, Ms Phua said, if the ministry refers potential candidates to role models like Californian teacher Erin Gruwell, who inspired her disadvantaged teenage students to read, write, make movies and pursue their studies in the early 1990s.

She said: 'I urge the ministry not to over-glamorise the teaching profession; to exercise rigour in teacher selection and to share with the House the methodology by which teachers are selected.'

Others, including Mr Michael Palmer (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Dr Ong Seh Hong (Marine Parade GRC), also spoke about the ministry's plans to hire 7,500 more teachers and support staff this year. They make up part of the 18,000 public-sector jobs opened up for the next two years to create employment in the downturn.

The MPs sought assurances that the ministry would guard against applicants who regard teaching as a job of last resort, or a temporary measure for the downturn.

Education Minister Ng Eng Hen gave the assurance that his ministry would be rigorous in its selection and ensure that only those with the passion, aptitude and commitment to teaching are chosen.

'We would rather hire less to get the type of teachers we want to maintain a quality teaching force,' said Dr Ng, who also gave a breakdown of the 7,500 jobs.

They include 3,000 teachers and 680 allied educators to provide support in areas such as counselling, teaching and learning, and special educational needs.

The ministry is also hiring mid-career professionals with strong language skills and young graduates for jobs as language facilitators and policy analysts respectively. They will make up most of the remaining 3,800 or so jobs.

Senior Minister of State (Education) Grace Fu explained the selection process, saying it includes interviews as well as teaching stints for those selected, to assess their aptitude for teaching.

Addressing the point made by MPs that a passion for teaching should be a key quality among applicants, she said that only about half of those who meet the academic criteria for teacher training pass selection interviews.

She also said that non-graduates will continue to have an important role in the profession. They could still join as allied educators, even though the ministry announced last year that it would recruit only graduates as teachers after 2015.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on February 11, 2009.

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