November 20th, 2012

Teachers: Train and post them to their home states

THE education minister said 20,000 teachers nationwide had applied for transfers and of these, 2,898 requested a return to Kelantan ("Concern over number of teachers seeking transfers" -- NST, Nov 9). This is indeed worrying.

The policy of sending teachers out of their state after training to ensure that every state has the right number of qualified teachers has been around for too long.

The ministry needs to scrutinise the policy. It has brought anger, frustration and misery to thousands of teachers and their families, not to mention the headache it is giving the ministry, heads of schools, the education department and even ministers.

It is sad to note that there are thousands of unhappy single and married teachers working in places far away from their loved ones just to cater to the ministry's concept of the ideal teacher population.

I know of a teacher with two children from Kelantan who was posted to Sabah for five years. Her husband teaches in Kelantan.

Numerous attempts for a transfer back failed. After living in misery for a few years and suffering breakdowns, the lonely mother decided to take one of her children to Sabah while her husband took care of the other child in Kelantan. They suffered for five years, meeting only during the long holidays.

What is the quality of teaching expected under such circumstances?

And what about the thousands of others scattered throughout the country, suffering in silence, attempting again and again to get a transfer back home?

In the long run, every state, including Sabah and Sarawak, should have, and would be better off, with their own trained teachers.

In most cases, many state education departments are formulating statistics on teacher needs according to the head count and not subject need per se.

In primary schools in Kelantan, for instance, there are many teachers teaching English in the non-examination classes without any relevant qualification. This could be tolerated in the case of those fluent in English but sadly, many of these teachers cannot even hold a decent conversation in English, let alone teach the subject.

Coming back to statistics, based on headcount, it would seem that Kelantan has enough teachers for English and other subjects.

The teacher population in Kelantan is almost saturated. It is, in fact, an irony to have trained English teachers from Kelantan teaching in Johor, Sarawak, Sabah and elsewhere when they are needed in their own state.

To alleviate this perennial problem, perhaps the ministry should start a policy of posting a large percentage of the newly trained teachers to their home states unless they request otherwise.

Desperate and deserving teachers in other states, too, should be allowed to return home in stages. There should be more mobility. This might be seen as a simplistic solution to the problem but it should resolve many difficulties faced by teachers.

The change in policy might bring about a sudden oversized teacher population in some states but in the long run, it should stabilise with the proper reallocation of teachers. It would definitely lessen teachers' workload, perhaps even lower the present student-teacher ratio. Clearly, the issue against such a policy has always been one of quality.

The big question is: can we get enough quality candidates for all the subjects from each state?

The long-held assumption that selecting and training excellent students and transferring them out of their state would result in better quality teaching needs reexamination. The idea that only teachers with excellent academic and co-curricular achievements can offer primary or secondary students quality teaching is built on a false premise.

A candidate with excellent results in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia or with a good degree does not necessarily make a good teacher. The criteria should be whether they have good language and communication skills, the right personality, aptitude, attitude and a genuine love for the calling -- plus, where possible, good academic grades.

My years of teaching in schools and at a teacher training college have taught me that an excellent qualification at entry point does not necessarily equal excellent teaching. Right now, there are many would-be teachers with excellent results, with no interest in teaching, undergoing training in the various Institut Pendidikan Guru, the universities and other private institutions. Pressure from parents and the prospects of a secure future have brought them --unwillingly -- into the teaching profession.

The authorities could instead have selected many genuinely interested candidates with the right attitude from Sabah, Sarawak or other interior areas, who would be happy to serve their own state.

In the teacher selection process, aptitude and attitude are the most difficult qualities to assess.

The aptitude and attitude test through the present Insak (Inventori Sahsiah Keguruan) programme is, in reality, a speed- and thinking-skill test. Because of time constraints, the interviews, which include individual and group sessions, are more for the calculation of the candidates' worth through points awarded based on their subject grades, leadership in co-curriculum activities, talking ability and their outward personality.

If we have the right instruments to measure and assess these qualities, instead of just looking at academic and other paper qualifications, we might be able to select the right candidates from each state.

In this respect, if the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Shift 4) is to enforce the stand that only the top 30 per cent of graduates will be recruited for teaching, then it would be difficult to select candidates from some of the states as they would be eliminated right from the start.

In fact, it is ridiculous to assume that a would-be teacher, with the minimum SPM/STPM qualification or a degree but with good language skills and grades in their subjects of choice, would not be able to provide quality teaching upon several years of training.

The key to the selection process also lies in the collection, compilation and processing of accurate and reliable statistics on the teacher population and subject needs of each state.

It should not be based on headcount. At times, insufficient attention is given to the measures needed for a more reliable and improved quality of educational statistics at state level. The statistics should be an intelligent and accurate forecast of the needs of the states for a few years.

Based on the requirement, enough candidates should be selected from each state, trained and sent back to their own states.

In the present system of training, with the exception of teacher training institutes, public universities and, more recently, private higher learning institutions are sticking to their own quota and do not seem to take into account the exact need for teachers. Over the years, this mismatch between supply and demand has led to an excess of teachers.

M. Alkut, Kota Baru, Kelantan New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 20 November 2012

Tirukkural: Teachings we can all appreciate

I REFER to the column by Datuk Johan Jaaffar, "Classical Tamil literature can teach us a thing or two" (NST, Nov 17).

Many of the present third and fourth generation Tamils, not only in Malaysia but even in Tamil Nadu, do not know that such excellent ancient Tamil literature exists. I understand that it is the non-Tamils, such as Americans, Europeans and even the mainland Chinese, who marvel at the Tirukkural's unique verses and content.

The 1,330 couplets have seven words (four in the first line and three in the second) respectively in rhyme.

The couplets are universal in nature, that is, they are meant for the wellbeing of mankind as a whole and touch on all matters, from the art of tilling a barren land to ruling a country.

Simplicity and moderation in all of mankind's dealings are the cornerstone of the Tirukkural's teaching.

I am sure Johan's piece will encourage many to look for the translations which are currently available only in Indian bookshops.

It should be made available in all bookstores, including those located in shopping complexes.

Kudos to Johan, a scholar who is a non-Tamil, for opening the eyes of uninformed Tamils to their classical heritage and others who would benefit from a reading of the Tirukkural.

R. Mahendra Raj, Kuala Lumpur New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 20 November 2012

Teachers: Improve their working conditions

TEACHERS are the unsung heroes who stand in front of the classroom and teach, educate, convey, extend and develop knowledge among students.

Teachers do this service as a vocation selflessly though beset by personal and professional problems.

They carry on relentlessly in their endeavour to disseminate knowledge to their charges.

There are many teachers who have sick children or spouses, or may themselves be grappling with some diseases. Others may be facing marital breakdowns.

Teachers are the unsung heroes who stand in front of the classroom and teach, educate, convey, extend and develop knowledge among pupils.

There are some teachers who may have professional problems, such as being unfairly bypassed for promotion or working problems with their principals and colleagues.

Students, sometimes, do not make the life of teachers any easier.

Therefore, the report "Honour our teachers" (NST, Oct 23) is a reminder of the contributions and sacrifices of teachers to society.

Raja Muda of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah at the launch of the first National Convention of Education Management said the strength of teachers was in their character and attitude, and not their academic qualification or seniority.

Truthfully and rightfully, it is their character and attitude that have made them soldier on despite shortcomings and problems at home and in school.

Raja Nazrin said to create competitive teachers in schools, the issue of promotions and pay rise should be looked into.

Apart from that, their working environment and needs should be looked into seriously.

Clerical staff should be appointed in schools to do the paperwork and keying in students' marks online.

Teaching hours should be reduced. Classes should be reduced to 20 students and staffrooms should be expanded and be made more comfortable.

Teachers with personal and professional problems should be referred to counsellors and advisers so that they can focus more in classrooms. Improving the standards and working conditions of teachers will spur them to raise their productivity.

Samuel Yesuiah, Seremban, Negri Sembilan New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 20 November 2012

Unity through sports

I REFER to “Sports to fight diabetes” (The Star, Nov. 19). It is undeniable sports not only fights diabetes but also reduces risk of obesity, increases cardiovascular fitness, and improves coordination and balance. Hence, sport makes us physically and mentally healthy; instills healthy habits and behaviour in students.

If they take part in team sports as well, they learn to work and get along with their classmates and how to have positive interactions with teachers. Also, games provide the opportunity to teach the students to handle disappointments.

In addition, students who are involved in sport exhibit higher social skills, self-esteem and self-confidence than inactive students.

Generally, they will begin to appreciate life and stay away from destructive discipline problems like smoking, vandalism, fighting and bullying.

But sadly, the school principals are not able to carry out the Physical Education (PJ) lessons and sport activities fully and faithfully for all the students to reap the amazing benefits of exercising.

Among the reasons are the lack of trained PJ and sport teachers, equipment and facilities such as a gymnasium or a field.

However, as an active and avid sportsman and principal for decades, I feel it is unfair to criticise the principals and teachers for not making sports part and parcel of students’ life.

The crux of the problem is they do not have much choice; they have to carry out their duties and responsibilities as required by the Education Ministry (MOE) and the parents, that is, to produce excellent academic and co-curricular results.

These days, they are also busy conducting school-based assessments which include setting and marking papers, and keying in the data to the MOE, besides facing the ever increasing student discipline problems.

Thus I would suggest the MOE outsource the teaching of PJ and sports to professionals, sport associations or even retired teachers, notwithstanding many of them are doing their regular exercises daily.

Apart from this, members of the school parents-teachers association, boards of governors and old boys’ or girls associations can also volunteer to help their respective schools in carrying out the sport programmes.

At the same time, schools should grab every opportunity to encourage their students to take part in public sports like the annual Starwalks, marathons, half-marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks and fun runs.

These events are organised by the private sector with public agencies. The school authorities do not have to worry about getting technical officials, prizes, police for traffic control,T-shirts, drinks, first-aid and protocol for VIPs – in fact everything from A to Z of running the sport event is taken care of and the schools just have to send their participants to take part in these healthy events.

Interestingly, the most important factor to unity in our country is sport which transcends all races, religions, colour, class and creed, not forgetting sport brings together people from all walks of life.

THOMAS KOK Ipoh The STAR Home News Opinion Tuesday November 20, 2012