Respect teachers' right to rest, private time

Nan Hua Primary School's Malay Language teachers (left to right) Norhazlinah, Mohamad Faizal, Mohamad Atkin, Shadidah (partly hidden) and  Norazleen (right) teaching the Chinese students Malay language using special guide books.
Nan Hua Primary School's Malay Language teachers (left to right) Norhazlinah, Mohamad Faizal, Mohamad Atkin, Shadidah (partly hidden) and Norazleen (right) teaching the Chinese students Malay language using special guide books. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

For a long time, overwork and extended hours have been reasons teachers leave the profession, despite the best efforts of the Ministry of Education to change matters ("5,000 teachers leave service over five years"; Oct 3).

The solution does not lie in recruiting more teachers to fill the gap to reduce the workload ("Working after school hours part of 'service'" by Ms Lee Wei Yin; last Saturday). A simple analogy is recruiting more firefighters to fight fires instead of having a national effort to reduce the number of fires.

What is needed are mindset and structural changes to make the teaching profession not only attractive to newcomers, but also an ecosystem where teachers, parents and children can thrive ("Set limits so teachers get breathing space" by Mr Lionel Loi Zhi Rui; last Tuesday, and "MOE should control teachers' working hours" by Madam Tay Lee Chuan; last Thursday).

Just like working adults in other professions, teachers are entitled to assigned rest days and hours.

They have a choice on how to spend this free time, but there should not be any obligation expected or imposed by the system.

Similarly, performance assessments can recognise teachers who choose to work 24/7, but should not penalise or discriminate against those who choose not to do so.

Parents have to play their part, by respecting teachers' right to private time, and working around it.

Principals have to redesign their schools' curricula and teachers' roles and responsibilities based on this constraint.

The drive to pursue a favourable school ranking should not come at the price of more resignations.

Christopher Tang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'Respect teachers' right to rest, private time'. Print Edition | Subscribe