Sunday April 4, 2010 BY TAN EE LOO firstname.lastname@example.org
They are acting arbitrarily in many matters pertaining to school, but principals claim that they are acting within the confines set by the Education Ministry.
WHEN Marlina*, a young teacher accused her school principal of being “unfair and biased” at a meeting last year in front of other teachers, little did she know that the incident would cause her to pay a heavy price.
Ever since then, going to school has become a living hell for Marlina.
“If the principal wants to say something to me, she will get one of the teachers to pass the message to me. It feels like she is shutting me out ... like I don’t belong here,” said Marlina in an interview with StarEducation.
Feeling helpless and depressed, the secondary school teacher turned to her colleagues for help, but her pleas fell on deaf ears as other fellow teachers were too afraid to stick up for her against the principal, who allegedly has a “close” relationship with PPD (district education department).
Tensions aside, Marlina alleges that her principal has not exercised her power fairly and appropriately, especially when it comes to staff transfers and the appointment of the canteen operator.
Marlina’s conflict with her principal has reached boiling point. After seeking her lawyer’s advice, the 34-year-old teacher has lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) with a letter containing 13 allegations against the near-retiring principal last week.
“I can’t take it anymore. I love my school and my students but my principal is driving me crazy and giving me all this (unnecessary) stress. I want her to be transferred out of the school,” said the frustrated teacher.
Marlina’s situation is not an isolated one. For years, we have heard of complaints by teachers alleging that their headmasters (HMs) or principals have been abusing their authority.
Some have dipped into the school coffers, while others have profited from kickbacks for offering contracts on school projects. There are yet other school heads who have gained in the form of favours and help.
However, unlike Marlina, very few teachers have actually come forward to report against their school heads for fear of repercussions like being deliberately left out during a promotion exercise or being transferred to another school.
While some teachers have commended Marlina for speaking up, many of them think that it was foolish of her to do so, considering similar allegations; not just from her school but from other schools, where the complainant was demonised and the complaints swept under the carpet.
As a teacher from a Klang Valley school says: “You will stick out like a sore thumb for accusing your school head of any wrongdoing and instead earn the reputation of being a trouble-maker amongst your colleagues.”
Many uncomplimentary terms like “number one school bully”, samseng (gangster) and towkay (big boss and businessman-like) have been hurled against school heads, but do they deserve to be called by such derogatory terms?
Many of them are merely carrying out their duties, according to the needs of the schools and bound by the level of autonomy set by the Education Ministry.
Like other civil servants, they too are expected to follow instructions through the many ministry and state education department circulars and directives.
The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) recently issued a list of grievances against school heads. Topping the list was the insistence of certain heads who forced teachers to come to school on weekends. Other grievances included overzealous state education directors and headmasters compelling teachers to carry out ‘’clerical’’ duties. Then there were others who were adamant that certain programmes must be implemented in their respective schools and school districts. Some school principals also wanted student and work-related appraisals done, which merely burdened the teachers even further.
The union claimed that teachers were now doing more clerical work, attending courses and organising programmes rather than focusing on teaching, their core fuction.
In response, Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had said that teachers’ duties had been clearly spelt out, and that the state education heads and headmasters should follow the instructions issued through circulars and announcements.
However, the few reported cases of asking teachers to come back to work on Saturdays might only be the tip of the iceberg. Allegations such as abuse of power in the redeployment had also surfaced earlier this year.
NUTP president Hashim Adnan recently said that the union had officially received 10 complaints from teachers alleging abuse of powers in their redeployment.
Hence, the union had called for official guidelines as a safeguard against the misuse of authority.
Hashim said that an absence of official guidelines for redeployment had left many teachers in a quandary.
Besides, there have also been allegations involving the appointment of canteen operators in schools.
Some canteen operators have allegedly given school heads a four to five-figure “angpau” each year in the hope of having their contracts extended.
“That is a common practice in schools,” says a former headmaster who retired six years ago.
As for the sales of learning tools, school heads can receive up to 20% of the sales for stationery and teaching aids the school purchases, says the former headmaster.
The allegations of inapproriate use of power in schools has garnered attention from not only the teachers, but also parents and the public.
Parent S. Leong of Ampang wrote to StarEducation saying that she was very upset that some schools were imposing unnecessary expenses on parents, forcing them to buy items such as trolley bags, new name tags and socks, that could have passed on from their older children to their younger ones.
“We could have bought at a cheaper price outside the school. This is daylight robbery. This is bullying,” she wrote in her e-mail.
Another parent, who posted a comment in a blog, said she remembered paying RM12 for a track suit to the school where her son was studying.
“Apparently the headmaster pocketed the money. Despite many parents seeking action against him, he was merely transferred to another school,” said the irate parent.
She suggested that there should be proper auditing done in schools and items paid should be accounted for.
Challenge for school heads
Malaysian National Headmasters Union president Pang Chong Leong says the level of authority a headmaster is able to exercise is set by the Education Ministry.
“It means that this (power) also comes with responsibility, ranging from their learning needs to the safety of the children.
“Managing a school has become increasingly challenging for school heads following the implementation of KPIs (Key Performance Index) and NKRA (National Key Results Area) so we, too, are under a lot of pressure,” he says.
As such, he says, teachers should not blame their school heads completely when they are not happy with their job.
“I understand the issues faced by teachers, especially those serving in Chinese schools, but teachers also need to understand that we too have our own problems to worry about.”
According to a circular, says Pang, a school head can ask teachers to come to back to work on two Saturdays a month for meetings or activities.
A headmaster, who declined to be named, says school heads should not be seen as misusing their authority when they recall their teachers to come back to work on Saturdays.
“As a headmaster, I have the authority to recall my teachers whenever there is a need.
“If I don’t ask my teachers to come back to work on weekends, then who else is going to do the work?” he says.
A headmistress laments that the paperwork that teachers are required to do is not entirely irrelevant to their job as claimed by some teachers.
National Tamil School Headmasters Council president P. Doraisamy has expressed his disappointment over allegations of school heads misusing their authority, lamenting that some teachers and parents do not appreciate the hard work, time and energy that they put into improving their schools.
“We must look at the issue with an open mind. Are the teachers’ duties or extra chores for the overall improvement of the school and its pupils, or for the headmaster’s personal gain?
“Some seem to think that all we do is to sit in the office and enjoy the air-conditioning. That is wrong. We often work hard to run the school efficiently and ensure that our students do well academically and shine as all-rounders,” he said.
Eddie Heng, chairman of SJK (C) Sentul board of governors, says teachers and parents should have faith and confidence in the leadership of a school head.
“If you don’t have that confidence, then it will be difficult for the school to progress and move in the right direction.”
Source : Education Sunday April 4, 2010