Set against the backdrop of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) recent policy shifts at its annual Work Plan Seminar, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s emphasis on education during the National Day Rally (here), an informal dialogue with Minister of State Sim Ann was dominated by the theme of teacher workload and well-being.
Two weeks ago, the Minister had gathered a small group of online contributors and writers at the MOE to share their perspectives. And even though perennial issues such as the Prime School Leaving Examination (“Will there be a tiebreak formula to complement the system of banding, since aggregate scores are unavailable?”), the new Applied Learning and Learning for Life programmes “(“How can students develop holistically?”), government scholarships (“Should need-based affirmative action be frowned upon?”, here), and tuition were on the agenda, teachers were firmly at the centre of the discussion.
Parents, in particular, were sceptical of the new MOE initiatives. “For everything that is added in, what has been taken out”, one questioned. If our educators cannot cope with their teaching responsibilities and co-curricular activities, is it fair or realistic to foist further commitments upon them? The members around the table began to share anecdotal examples of how their kids’ teachers and friends in the profession have been overworked: endless assignments to grade, rushing to complete an unrealistic curriculum, and them not having the bandwidth to “engage in other activities, organise events and projects”.
Is it possible for the MOE to be oblivious to such feedback?
Perhaps. In response to the answer that the policy-makers and bureaucrats regularly gather feedback and information from teachers, many retorted that these viewpoints are likely to biased, because “they would be hesitant to provide frank, on-the-ground appraisals”. Many in the service have been forthcoming with their criticisms, as direct electronic mails and social media platforms have opened up channels for communication. Letters, too, have been sent to the newspapers. Many who have been struggling are willing to improve the status quo.
Yet more significantly, beyond the mere aggregation of these opinions, how can we make the best possible sense of them? Surely independent narratives cannot be perceived to be definitely representative, but these “horror stories” should not be dismissed conveniently.
Openness is key, I reckon.
As the MOE seeks to engage more teachers and educators in conversations, to balance or calibrate the roles and tasks of those who might be worn out (the Minister spoke of a “perplexing phenomenon”, of how streamlined masterplans and slimmer curriculum are not necessarily reflected in the institutions), aligning our own perceptions is crucial to. We must be cognisant of our own cognitive biases, to be open to dissimilar views, and not relish in confirmation biases. It is awfully tempting to conclude – based on one’s interactions – that all teachers are dissatisfied and over-stressed, and block out cases point to the contrary. Generalisations, we must not indulge in.