Do more to reduce teachers' workload

Teachers and students in a classroom.
Teachers and students in a classroom.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Straits Times reported that Singapore teachers are the seventh-most hardworking in the world, down from third in a 2013 survey (Teachers work fewer hours now, but teach more: Poll, June 20).

It seems to me that the message being sent to readers and the general public is that the working conditions of teachers have improved, though marginally in statistical terms.

I taught primary school pupils for 40 years, and while I may have retired 16 years ago, I am still very clued in about what is happening in the teaching scene.

From my chats with my many teacher friends who are still in active service and other teachers in their 30s who were my former pupils, I realise that the daily routine of a teacher has not changed much for the better.

Teachers spend 12 hours a day in school doing an unwieldy host of duties other than the one they should be focused on - classroom teaching.

Their workload outside the classroom is astronomical, and their duties range from weekly staff meetings and sharing sessions with colleagues to keeping in touch with students' parents and meeting reporting officers to gauge their own annual performance.

Single teachers, and even some married ones, take unmarked class assignments home and spend a lot of time finishing them.

So there is precious little time for them to spend with family or friends. Work stress contributes a great deal to the push factor, with it being reported in 2016 that 5,000 teachers had left the service in the prior five years (5,000 teachers leave service over five years, Oct 3, 2016).

Based on anecdotal evidence, the exodus continues. Some teachers face psychological and mental challenges arising from difficult students and demanding parents. They require medication, professional counselling and even hospitalisation to help them cope.

The way forward is to understand and accept that teaching is a very demanding and challenging task that requires cooperation, understanding and active support from all involved.

The Ministry of Education has to take the lead in a systematic and methodical approach to considerably reduce the tremendous demands teachers face daily in schools without sacrificing quality.

Ho Kong Loon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2019, with the headline 'Do more to reduce teachers' workload'. Print Edition | Subscribe