Number of teachers here with master's on the rise

14% of graduates have such degrees as schools exercise flexibility in allowing time for studies

Hwa Chong Institution teachers, (from left) Dr Melvyn Lim, Ms Veronica Yap, Dr Nicholas Richard Mercer, Dr Audrey Cheong, Ms Liew Pei Li, Dr Hon Chiew Weng, Dr Sandra Tan and Dr Har-Chia Hui Peng, all hold either master's degrees or doctorates. Aroun
Hwa Chong Institution teachers, (from left) Dr Melvyn Lim, Ms Veronica Yap, Dr Nicholas Richard Mercer, Dr Audrey Cheong, Ms Liew Pei Li, Dr Hon Chiew Weng, Dr Sandra Tan and Dr Har-Chia Hui Peng, all hold either master's degrees or doctorates. Around eight in 10 teachers in Singapore are graduates, of which 13.6 per cent - or nearly 3,600 - now hold master's degrees, compared with just 8 per cent five years ago. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Singapore teachers are becoming better qualified with more holding master's degrees. And this is good news for the education system here, said principals.

Already, around eight out of 10 teachers are graduates, up from 75 per cent five years ago, according to the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Within this group, 13.6 per cent, or nearly 3,600, have a master's degree, compared with just 8 per cent five years ago.

More than half are teaching in secondary schools, with around a third in primary schools, and the rest working in junior colleges.

MOE, which has been increasing the number of professional development programmes such as grants and leave schemes in recent years, expects the number to continue growing.

It is no longer uncommon for some schools to have a dozen or so teachers with master's degrees.

Of the 97 teachers at Bukit Panjang Government High, 10 have a master's degree.

Principal Chan Wan Siong said these teachers are armed with deeper professional knowledge as well as the broader perspectives of educational theories, which, in turn, improve a student's education.

Ms Adeline Phua, 33, head of humanities at Bukit Panjang Government High, who chose to juggle work and studies to get her master's degree in secondary education from the National Institute of Education, said getting a higher degree part-time, rather than studying full time, had its benefits.

"Each time I learnt something new in the course, I could immediately come back to school and apply it to the students," she said.

Ms Phua decided to further her studies after five years of teaching because "I felt like I needed to learn new things, so the master's was a natural progression".

Dunman Secondary principal Beatrice Chong said that teaching should be a learning profession.

"In so doing, we demonstrate to our students our love for learning and the importance of lifelong learning," she said.

The school encourages teachers to take higher degrees relevant to their area of work and discuss with colleagues ahead of time to see how they can be better supported.

Some schools encourage their teachers by approving applications for part-time teaching, while others make special arrangements so that the teacher can attend classes in the afternoons or evenings.

Dunman Secondary's senior teacher for Chinese language, Madam Jane Si, 34, said she was more aware of learning theories after getting a master's in education in Chinese language.

"There was an affirmation of strategies we used, instead of just using them based on gut feel," she added.

At Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution, which offer the six-year Integrated Programme, nearly four out of 10 teachers hold a master's degree.

A Raffles Institution spokesman said the school encourages its teachers to upgrade themselves because having a master's degree "will help focus on developing one's content knowledge and teaching skills so as to further enhance the learning experience of the students".

A Hwa Chong spokesman said the school, where 10 per cent of teachers have a doctorate while another 20 teachers are currently pursuing a higher degree, has long had a culture of research and lifelong learning.

"One never feels alone because we're constantly surrounded by colleagues and school leaders who are pursuing their further studies. Staff are often discussing their progress, giving and receiving advice - creating a strong support network," he said.

He added that the role of educators is changing, and has evolved from one where teachers use a top-down approach to one of mentorship.

"Content mastery is no longer enough. We need teachers to be effective research mentors," he said.

Some are not stopping at a master's degree. About 0.4 per cent, or 95 out of the around 26,200 graduate teachers here, currently hold a doctorate.

Hwa Chong's head of chemistry Benjamin Chan, who has a Master of Science degree, will start on a Doctorate of Education programme next month with the University of Western Australia's Graduate School of Education.

He said he decided to do so because he has been looking into how to teach the subject better.

Said the 54-year-old: "I've already been doing it, so I wanted to put the ideas to the test. It is a subject I'm interested in and I've a desire to keep growing regardless of age."

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