There are many benefits that can be offered to attract the best minds to the teaching profession.
The fact that we need to hire English teachers from India is a testament that India has done the right thing with regard to English in their education policy.
Bear in mind that it too was a British colony and is grappling with similar issues like bilingualism or multilingualism. There is no question as to the position of Hindi being threatened by English; however, there seems to be a healthy coexistence between the two languages, more so than that of a cannibalising one.
In India, English is a second language as well as an official language, much like what it is supposed to be in Sabah and Sarawak.
In the bigger cities in India, they have maintained English medium schools, like we once did. Had we continued with the English medium schools, we wouldn’t be considering importing English teachers now. Instead, we would have been able to groom our own talent pool, grown the economic pie and, like India, have the opportunity of exporting such talent.
In the Malaysian Education Blueprint, shift 4 outlines the plan to transform teaching into the profession of choice. However, the implementation process of ensuring that it achieves its objective and outcome leaves much to be desired.
The intent to recruit only the top 30% of graduates for teaching seems to be a good benchmark, but whether the candidates are of the right calibre or would consider this profession is a different ballgame.
The challenge now is to ensure that the top 30% find the teaching profession attractive and are able to make a good living out of it. Unless and until it can convince and attract more good people to this profession, this shift would just be another one of the unachievable targets, carried forward year after year.
A McKinsey research titled “How the world’s best performing systems come out on top, 2007” concludes that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.
The quality of teachers is the most important single determinant factor in student outcomes. There is no substitute for good teachers; they are the ones who can improve the students’ outcome regardless of the socioeconomic status that the students are in. Every child has the ability to learn and improve.
Let’s look at the statistics presented in the blueprint concerning teachers.
There are 410,000 teachers in the country, but only half of them deliver satisfactory to effective teaching, while the other half do not meet the satisfactory standard. Another relating statistic shows that half of the teachers will continue teaching for the next 30 years.
The blueprint admits that 50% of the teachers do not meet the satisfactory standards, but what if they stayed on for the next 30 years?
Something must be done to ensure that teachers who continuously fail to meet the mark are taken out of the system.
Teach for Malaysia has proven that it has the ability to recruit the best minds into the teaching profession ceteris paribus.
This shows that potentially good recruits do not necessarily look for good remuneration or benefits but they do look for opportunities that can springboard them into better future prospects.
Perhaps the ministry should also look into having this kind of short-term teacher development programme to entice good people who may want to try out teaching.
Importing teachers from India cannot be the only viable temporary solution to address the insufficient number of quality English teachers.
We need to cast the net wider in recruiting local teachers, including retired teachers who are able to take on the task.
We have not yet exhausted or even attempted to recruit the top 30% previous graduates. They are most likely in the workforce now, or have opted out of work.
Such candidates may be drawn into the teaching profession if they realise that they can make a good living out of being a teacher.
Some of them who are too stressed out or have burnt out may be looking for other careers, and teaching can be a viable option. The benefit of having 12 weeks of “time out” in a year can surely help in alleviating the office stress.
To entice this group to consider the teaching profession, the most important factors involved are remuneration, benefits, perks and clear development stages in their career path.
Salaries must match what they are being offered at current rate, i.e. an executive who is earning RM3,000 as a starting salary may in 10 years earn RM10,000 as a senior manager.
That should be the same with teachers; at least they should be able to earn the same in their career path as they develop, parallel to the current trends of a white-collar worker.
In terms of offering perks and benefits, if we can offer foreigners in the “Malaysia My Second Home” programme incentives like tax-free cars, we should consider the same for teachers.
Teachers would be able to afford to buy good cars. Imagine a teacher’s Porsche next to a minister’s Perdana. Instant prestige!
In addition, consider perks such as quality tax-free purchases, subsidised rates for utilities, and tax-free shopping as was once offered to our Army and Navy, such as the likes of the NAAFI store (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes).
This will surely create the desire to act at a faster rate.
There are many other benefits that can be offered to entice and elevate the teaching profession.
However, the fundamentals in choosing the right candidates and ensuring ways to retain them must be strictly observed to get the best minds into teaching.
Finland, an example of the most successful school system in the world, takes pride in their teachers who are given the same status as doctors and lawyers.
The highly qualified teachers are selected from the top 10% of the nation’s graduates and are required to have a master’s degree in education, which is fully funded by the state.
The officials in the government agencies running education are educators themselves. They are not business people, military officials or career politicians.
The most successful countries’ education systems are distinctive in not just whom they employ but what they do when things go wrong. Finland has more special education teachers than anywhere else in the world.
It took Finland 40 years to transform its education system into what it is today.
They chose to transform public education as a means to better their economic recovery, while we in our nationalistic and blinkered fervour were getting rid of the British influence from our education system and sliding backwards in the process.
As for us, our transformation for a better education must be a meaningful one. The Cabinet ministers who will be deliberating on this very blueprint on Jan 30 have a heavy responsibility to decide if the blueprint is good to go.
But is it really? Will our ministers decide with conscience and common sense?
Our hope is that they will decide the best course of action to revive a progressive nation’s education system.
Teacher recruitment and development is so crucial in building a solid foundation for a sound education system. The planning must be done correctly to meet the needs of the multitude of schools.
Let’s start by recruiting the best teachers and enticing them to the teaching vocation with a well-structured incentive package.
PAGE Views By Tunku Munawirah Putra The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday January 27, 2013