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Education Ministry’s “principle of equal misery” has gone too far in this pandemic

Hundreds and possibly thousands of teachers are commuting to school daily for nothing




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A reader has submitted the following letter for publication in Independent SG:
You may be aware that the Ministry of Education has a “principle of equal misery” system when it comes to staff matters.
In the past, teachers will be posted to schools regardless of where they stayed just to be equally “fair” to all. You don’t get a chance at indicating your preferred area. This archaic system might have changed recently I hope.
What has not changed in most schools is the practice of making all teachers continue to report to school even when there are no more formal classes or lessons or activities. This occurs during the end of Term 4 before the long school year vacation.
As students from secondary schools and JCs go for their national O and A level exams, teachers who are not on invigilation duties are still required to report to school and clock in between 8 and either 12 or 1pm, depending on the school principal (this is the principle of equal misery). This goes on until the official last day of Term 4 of the school year.
Presumably the logic of such a practice is to make it fair to all teachers who have to work till the last day of school (applies mainly to primary school teachers who usually have lessons until the last day). Hence all teachers have had to adhere to such a practice, going to school to report and hang around till their prescribed knockoff time. This can be for a few weeks since the O and A level exams begin rather early.
What I have found more disturbing is that during this Covid-19 situation, some schools are still practising it. When the government has been strictly enforcing the mandatory Work From Home directive on private firms and organisations, we have a ministry that is still insisting that its teachers report to school to do literally nothing.
The irony isn’t lost on the fact that the Education Minister, Mr Lawrence Wong, happens to be co-heading the task force on the Covid-19 pandemic response.
I hate to say this but the so-called highly independent and high calibre principals promoted yearly are just “good managers” at most in my opinion. Most are not independent or trailblazing. They work under a cluster superintendent (the gate keeper). Anything that seems not current policy or practice is usually nipped in the bud. It might be a deliberate policy to rein in maverick principals to ensure that all schools are similar. But that is a story for another day.
I have not had the chance to query the ministry on this partly because a few months back when I queried why non-teaching staff (those in the office reception, finance, HR staff, etc.) in schools were all made to report to work physically when the authorities were still enforcing the mandatory work WFH directive for other businesses, the reply from MOE was that they were essential staff…
We know that school admin work can be easily done from home since we made banks do it too. This was just a blanket reply and directive because the MOE could not rely on principals to make autonomous decisions when it concerns their individual staffing.
But this archaic “principle of equal misery” has gone too far during this pandemic. Hundreds and possibly thousands of teachers are commuting to school daily for nothing. And even if they had meetings or workshops, do they need to be present physically? And can’t the meetings be consolidated and planned for a single day?
Teachers are civil servants. Hence they are bound by their contracts not to air their grievances publicly. The only recourse is to query their principal. Not many will do so since the answer is likely to be a negative. /TISG
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