Monday, April 03, 2006

Smart Kids, Stressed Teachers

"You should not send your kid to school too early."

Well, that's the advice a friend of mine got from her (retired) teacher mum. "Why?", you might ask. Well, apparently kids that attend pre-schools way too early are very difficult to manage in class. They give teachers a headache.

The reason is straightforward, kids who have attended some 3 to 4 years of pre-school and kindergarten today would have gone through possibly the typical syllabus of a standard 2 pupil. Hence unsurprisingly, many of these kids won't be the most patient lot sitting still in a class which the teachers are trying the "teach" them things which they already knew inside out.

What will make life more difficult for these teachers is the fact the level of "knowledge" which these kids start school in Standard 1 with, is highly unequal. Some will really know terribly a lot and be fluent with the languages, while others have only a half-decent grasp of the ABCs.

Initially, I just thought that it was just an interesting and amusing problem which primary school teachers face. Well, looks like its more serious than I thought!

According to a ground-breaking 2005 survey by the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), as reported by the New Straits Times, "stress levels among teachers are soaring, with nearly seven out of 10 claiming to be under pressure. And the biggest source of pressure: Parents and students." :)
The polls found that 69 per cent of those surveyed were under stress. Many said pressure from parents and students was the most stress-inducing factor (83 per cent).
NUTP secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng elaborated that "sometimes, [the students] are more knowledgeable than the teachers, and this stresses the teachers out."

The solution?
NUTP has suggested that the workload of teachers be reduced by ensuring that all clerical work is handled by clerks. The union also wants the teacher-student ratio to be revised to two teachers per class.
Well, errr... while I agree with the fact that it is likely that students today, with greater access to information are likely to be (sometimes) more knowledgeable than the teachers, I disagree that by increasing the teacher student ratio to two teachers per class is the way forward.

The reason why students are (sometimes) more knowledgeable than their teachers can be attributed to two simple reasons. New, younger teachers are no longer the cream of the crop. The smart graduates today do not have ambitions to be a teacher. That leaves the potential pool of candidates as teachers to be severely short of talent. Hence it's unsurprising that you will find students (sometimes) more knowledgeable than their teachers.

Secondly, the older generation teachers are used to a more docile student population who will accept whatever dished out to them. However, the young student population today are definitely not the typical docile lot. They are more outspoken and more willing to challenge teachers, especially when they believe that the teachers are making a mistake. It also doesn't help that these older generation teachers are likely to be less inclined to gather additional knowledge with the help of computers and the internet, relative to the boisterous young students.

But the solution of two teachers per class is equally hare-brained. There are plenty of classrooms in developed countries which continue to function extremely well even with the same single teacher per class ratio. In Singapore for example, I have not heard of any school which offers 2 teachers per class! And I can safely say that there are no more clerks to help these Singapore teachers with their administrative work. They will just have to become more efficient and productive - there is no other way.

Why should Malaysian teachers be any different, unless of course, we are by nature less efficient and less productive, and hence less capable than our Singaporean counterparts. Is that the case? Do we need to review the quality of our teachers? Hmmm....


Anonymous said...

I think the 70% fit just nice to the intake ratio (here comes the issue again :D) So why dont just admit that those teachers do not have to basic necessary skills to be a teacher at all, although i generally agreed that the kids are much way smarter than their predecessors. Perhaps if you consider this, arent the newby teachers suppose to be smarter than their predecessors as well? So where's the problem :)?

Anonymous said...

My wife has been a school teacher for more then 18 years and she is currently teaching in a Chinese new village school.

From my observations and from my regullar discussions with her, the so called smart students normally comes either in the urban areas or their parents are normally well to do. Cases of smart "kampung" students are quite rare. Student's background? So under what context of comparison are we making here? What are the factors that comtribute to this phenomenon?

We can't be making general assumptions of the whole teaching scene just by looking at the urban schools. Let's go back to the small towns and kampungs. Then you will see that the weak students outnumbers the smarts ones anytime. Enough said on this.

On the subject of admin work by teachers. Why don't you guys just come to the schools and observe for a week or so. The reasons why Singapore teachers are assumed to be more efficient are the fact that in terms of infra-structure, they beat us anytime. Example are like name list being fully computerised, database of students needed to be updated only once. Facilities that are more "cangih" then ours. Teaching aids and tools are years ahead of ours, State of the art labs.... Need I continue?

Yes, we are not making much inroads in the quality of our teachers when compared to Singapore. Why? May I ask. Do you know how much teachers in Singapore are paid compared to those in Malaysia? Hey, cheap things not good, good things not cheap lah.....

Do not genaralise teachers capabilities and abilities. There are some who sincrely wants to serve their country or who are really commited to the teaching profession. Many like my wife, are also there for the love of teaching.

It can be quite discouraging to read that there are those who feel so nagatively.

And to answer Anonymous ...the "PROBLEM", if you want to call it, lies with the System and its Policy Makers. Stop blaming the Teachers. It makes the sacrifices that some (if not all)teachers made, seem so insignificant(sigh).

Now I can understand why I choose to sent my Kids to a Kampung school eventhough I work in KL. All my friends in KL thought that I was crazy. I never regreted it.

Anonymous said...

well said, big bird! i attended an urban chinese school, and there were many smart students around. but the students and teachers complement each other, my teacher(s) always said, " we are still learning", notice the "we".

i was a class monitor for all my high school years. it was my duty to assist the teacher in class duties and stuff, and i did see the heavy paper workload teachers had to manage. lets not forget that there are ppl that are just as sympathetic as you are. i'm with you!


Anonymous said...

My Mom is a chemistry teacher. She gets stressed up all the time with loads of non-value-added chores.

When asked why she's doing it, she always shrug it off and said: "its an order from the top. We can't go against it". I was curious as to who's at the 'top'.

I think there should be a mechanism where policies can be reviewed properly by a committee of teachers. A check and balance system of some sort needs to be introduced.

It would be not easy but the teachers union should do something. A few brain-storming ideas to consider: What is the purpose of the paperwork? how effective is it? Is it really used in the right way or is it being stashed away? What specific changes are needed? who do we talk to to request that change? Is it legal for the teacher's union to go on strike?

For many reasons, we rarely pursue what we want. People reading this blog would chuckle in disagreement (or agreement) and continue on with our lives. Few have the passion or courage to take a stand on an issue and push for positive change.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Tony. A first step would be to separate the admin/operations and the academic functions. An admin or operations manager to take charge of office paperwork and day to day functions will free the teachers to concentrate on teaching and preparation of teaching content and study aids. This is the immediate remedy.

Revamp and streamline the school information and admin system and the necessary hardware so that it is standardized throughout the country. AirAsia uses the same strategy to minimise on maintenance. This will improve efficiency and will expedite deployment of staff so that the equipment and procedures are exactly the same anywhere.

Focus on quality of trainees accepted into the TTCs. The government is obsessed with churning out the numbers to fill the vacancies but sadly at the expense of quality. This is a long term solution and will only see results after the cari-makan types are slowly filtered out of the system.

But does the government have the will to do anything?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad there are still dedicated teachers around. I applaud big bird's wife. We need more teachers like her.

No doubt there are a lot of competent teachers in non-national schools, how about the national schools? What's the percentage of really competent teachers? Eventhough there maybe a few, is that enough to say, "no, we don't need anyone to upgrade our quality?" Though there may be other factors also that we should look into, like the policies.

Like wise, better teaching tools and admin system will lead to better teaching quality! Big bird made his points!

It's true that one's productiveness is limited by the tools and system around you, but also by the "culture" of an environment! The policies created a culture everyone has to follow.

On the other hand, why we want to "kia su" like Singapore? Why send your kids to school at 3 years old? Your kids only become smarter "earlier" and everybody's learning curve is going to meet at certain stage because the current system enforces that! It's not like you can skip primary school and straight jump to secondary school, complete thirtery ed by 16 and contribute to the working society at 17? If the policies doesn't allow that, what are we "kia su" about? Even if the system allows that, I want my kids to enjoy child hood and have fun of being a teenage.

Singapore's success today is because they have a good system, not because they send their kids to school at 2? They emphasize on the importance of good education, that's a good thing but becoming a maniac and building up of this "phobia" in every family of being loose out is really really bad! How many smart malaysians contributed to the growth of Singapore? Did they go to school at 2 or 3? Maybe should do a search how many successful people or genius go to school at 2 or 3... then we can decide if we really need to send our kids to school that early!

Sorry for being long winded.

Anonymous said...

ratio of 2 teachers per class does not mean that 2 teachers are in one class. The present ratio is 1.5 teachers to a class. This is the ratio used to calculate the number of teachers allocated to a school. A higher ratio means that more teachers will be allocated and thus reduce the teaching load per teacher in a school

Anonymous said...

How many smart malaysians contributed to the growth of Singapore?

The retiring Chief Justice of Singapore was a Malaysian who studied at Victoria Institution in KL, and the incoming Chief Justice was also a Malaysian!!

Anonymous said...

What Big Bird has said on the workload is so true!
I suppose in some ways we are far more kiasu than the singaporeans,
we burden our academicians with so much workload that their creativity and desires to educate die out.
What's wrong with getting more people to handle clerical and managerial work, isn't that also a form of investment?
And let's not forget about those in the tertiary institutions as well.
Same old's the lecturers who handle the students' intake, practical training, invigilation, minutes writing, filing (according to ISO!) etc etc... and yet, they're also the lecturers, the researchers, the academic researchers....and with current going rates of hundreds of students in a batch, seems to me that they are turning into robots la...

Anonymous said...

I was attending a Conference in Singapore for the past two days. During one of the breaks, I met a Singapore Academician. When the conversation on what has been discussed here was brought up, he was surprise to know that teachers in Malaysia do not have assistants to assist them in admin duties.

Apperently, all Singapore school teachers have assistants to help them do paperwork, keeping schedules, meeting visitors, marking test paper, etc. That will lessen the work load of teachers leaving them to just concentrate on teaching.

When I came back and told my wife (who is a teacher, by the way) about this, she just let out a big sigh, shaked her head and did not say anything.

Sad...isn't it?