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