At the recently held launch of our education policy paper, a teacher said that she had lost faith in our education system and that she was leaving the profession. She lamented the fact that the system is putting our children through torture.
She also related that a colleague of hers had told her that if she could, she would send her child to an international school because the emphasis there is less on exams and more on critical thinking and personal development.
The tragedy is that the teacher, knowing our education system first hand, doesn't want to put her child through it.
Another (former) teacher commented on Temasek Review Emeritus that many students needed private tuition because the subjects are poorly taught in school and teachers have too many non-teaching duties. Class sizes are also too big.
He left the system and now tutors students in Math and English. “I usually need no more than one hour to get students to understand core concepts in key exam chapters,” he said. “What amazes me every time is that if their own school teacher had been willing to sit down one hour with that same student, that student wouldn’t be needing tuition.”
"We knew we had a problem"
The Prime Minister acknowledged the problem of teachers leaving the profession. In 2009, he said: “Too few young people wanted to become teachers and too many teachers were leaving the service...we knew we had a problem.”
What was the government’s solution? “We did what was the obvious thing,” Mr Lee Hsien Loong said, “...and that was to raise the pay.”
Teachers’ pay was consequently raised by an average of 15 percent. Mr Lee added that it was “critical” that the government did this so that it could get “dedicated, committed teachers, who would make all our other ideas work.”
Contrast this with Finland where the education system is admired across the world and where teaching is a highly regarded profession. The Finland government knows that merely giving its teachers high pay is not the answer. Finnish teachers are paid only a little more than half (US$28,780) of what Singaporean teachers get (US$45,755).
Yet, Finland does not have a problem retaining their teachers. The reason is that Finnish teachers take pride in their vocation. According to Mr Timo Lankinen, Director General of the Finnish National Board of Education, teaching is “one the most popular professions among students in upper secondary schools.”
The problems with Singapore's teaching profession is discussed more fully in the SDP's education policy paper Educating for Creativity and Equality.
Teachers in Finland are highly trained and given autonomy in the classroom to design their plans to help their students reach their potential. As a result, the country produces well-adjusted, intelligent and creative students. Finnish students perform no less well than Singaporean ones – minus the psychological hell that we put out children through. (Read Why do we do this to our children?)
Judging by the sentiment of our teachers, Mr Lee's idea of throwing money at the problem doesn't seem to be working.
Note to Prime Minister: You still have a problem.
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