ONLY 800 graduates and school leavers have made the cut to become teachers so far this year, as the Ministry of Education (MOE) continues to scale down the recruitment of educators.
An eight-year recruitment drive since 2004 has helped it build up the number of teachers to more than 33,000 currently, said MOE, adding that the total number recruited this year is likely to reach 900 by end of next month.
Of those recruited so far this year, the significant majority are graduates and 15 per cent are mid-career hires.
But the number is still a big drop from the peak of its hiring drive in 2009, when it recruited 3,000 teachers. In the years following, the number ranged between 2,000 and 3,000 a year.
But in 2013, the figure fell to 1,400 and last year it went down a notch further to 1,300.
Asked about the further cut this year, the ministry said: "While we have grown the size of the teaching force significantly over the past few years, our focus now is on replacing teachers who have left the service and recruiting more teachers in specific subject areas."
These subject areas include art and music, humanities, Tamil language and physical education.
In 2006, when it employed 28,000 teachers, the ministry took steps to improve salaries and career prospects.
About 85 per cent of teachers are graduates. At the primary school level, seven in 10 teachers have a degree.
Eight years ago, the ministry improved pay and promotion prospects for mid-career professionals. That led to the mid-career teachers growing from 15 per cent of the teaching force in 2002 to nearly 25 per cent currently.
In August, MOE announced another pay rise for teachers which came into effect last month. Up to 30,000 teachers received a 4 per cent to 9 per cent increase in their monthly wages. All trained teachers will also get an annual special payment each September from 2016, which will be between $500 and $700 in cash.
MOE also announced a single salary structure for graduate and non-graduate teachers, in line with SkillsFuture's direction to recognise employees' skills beyond academic qualifications.
With more teachers, schools have been able to reduce the class size at lower primary levels to around 30 pupils and offer more extras such as the Learning Support Programme for children who need help in some subjects. Teachers also have more time to develop themselves professionally.
But with the ministry cutting down on recruitment, more of those hoping to become teachers are disappointed at being turned away.
Two graduates who failed to land positions as teachers said they were surprised to be rejected because they had mastered the right teaching subjects and had some experience.
One of them, a National University of Singapore graduate who declined to be named, said: "I have always wanted to be a teacher and I picked subjects like English language and Geography as my majors. I also chalked up experience, volunteering as a tutor in tuition programmes run by welfare organisations."
The other, a 21-year-old overseas university graduate, suggested that there should be a scheme similar to Teach For America where fresh college graduates are recruited to teach two years in low-income school districts.
He said: "There should be a scheme where those who have a passion for teaching can be given some training and tried out for a year. If they prove themselves, then they should be hired as full-time teachers."
Get MyPaper for more stories.