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Care for them if we truly care about education

Most civil servants do not discuss problems for fear of consequences to their career prospects. -ST

Sun, May 23, 2010
The Straits Times

WITH reference to Ms Aishah Quek's letter last Saturday ('Work-life balance? Here's one day in the life of a teacher'), the Ministry of Education (MOE) should take a hard look at what is happening in schools.

In particular, MOE should examine how overzealous principals and management are in exerting undue pressure on the average teacher.

The typical workday routine as related by Ms Aishah is sadly true although individual cases may differ.

Teachers who are likely to deny this problem exists belong to two categories.

The first are young and ambitious teachers or heads of department who are being fast-tracked for promotion to principal.

The second group comprises the middle-aged or senior teachers who are hoping to bite the bullet and just make it to the next grade so that they can increase their income and pay for their children's education and clear their mortgage before retiring.

Those who can quit are usually young and mobile without any financial commitments.

Teachers who leave commonly cite the sheer volume of paper work, including marking, and additional non-teaching responsibilities. Typical responses from principals and school management include 'learn to work smart' or 'make time for family'.

But they do not apply to the average teacher who must cope with the volume of marking for which there is no 'work smart' solution - unless the teacher resorts to unethical methods like making students mark each other's work or marking in class instead of supervising the students.

I once raised the issue of an overworked young teacher to a principal only to be told that he was not working smart.

If we really believe in helping teachers achieve a balance, we must acknowledge their unrealistic workload.

We must reduce the obsession with continual assessments and trying to complete the syllabus far ahead of schedule.

Most teachers, like most civil servants, do not discuss their problems for fear of punishment or negative consequences to their career prospects.

If we truly value our children's education, we should start by taking good care of our teachers and their needs.

James Suresh

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

For more The Straits Times stories, click here.

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