“Only around 13 per cent of the 34,392 educators in 2016 – the latest year for which figures are available – did not hold degrees” (Only Four Remaining School Principals are Non-Grads, Amelia Teng).
At first glance the dwindling number of non-graduate educators and principals, who respectively make up around 13 per cent (about 4,400 out of 34,392 educators) and just one per cent (four out of 372 principals) of their respective cohorts (ST, Feb. 9), can be attributed to the higher number of graduates in Singapore. Yet the numbers also reflect the persistent focus on paper qualifications, especially as a signalling mechanism – even though since 2015 the Ministry of Education (MOE) has abolished the differences in remuneration structure for graduates and non-graduates – and signal the need for diversity not just in the types of qualifications, but also in the specialisations and even professional backgrounds of the teachers.
The benefits of diversity go beyond the circumvention of groupthink. Insofar as the education system is intended to prepare students for life and for the workforce, educators and principals from a wider range backgrounds will therefore offer these students more perspectives of what their future trajectories could be. Bear in mind too the narrative of the new PSLE scoring system coming into effect in 2021 – with the objectives of reducing the level of competition as well as enhancing the academic and co-curricular programmes in secondary schools – and the even broader narrative of the SkillsFuture movement, with its emphasis on better classroom-to-workplace transition, skills-building, and lifelong learning.
In this vein the question is not just about the proportion of non-graduates or whether that proportion should be increased. Instead, and in addition, there are questions about the general distribution of teachers, and the extent to which they could advise students with increasingly diverse aspirations for an increasingly diverse future. For instance: Their scholastic courses or vocational areas of study, their pursuits in the community, and even if they have prior work experience. A school or a teaching workforce which is comprised of individuals from similar backgrounds – in terms of scholarship profiles, of pathways through universities, and even of persistent social circles, in particular – would be of much greater concern to the MOE.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.