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Education: Teachers burdened with other duties besides teaching

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By S. Bala

I was recently in the company of some teachers and the topic of interest among the teachers was the recent article on the Teaching and Learning International Survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.  The matter of contention that was unanimous among the teachers was how the survey was not reflective of the hours that are actually spent a week on the average. It was reported in the survey that Singaporean teachers spends an average of 48 hours per week but this was not so, considering the greater job demands. The other concern was that the sample size was not representative of the population of teachers in Singapore. The 3109 teachers sampled were from 159 secondary school.

Statistically speaking, the population sampling should represent the population of entire teaching fraternity which should include primary, secondary and tertiary so that the estimate of these results can be extrapolated to the larger population. Since only the secondary school teachers were surveyed, how can the results be reliable?

Another revelation from the survey that also got my attention was that the teachers were spending an average of 17 hours teaching compared to their peers in other countries who are spending 19 hours. Our teachers are spending more time doing administrative duties and significantly more time in marking. Are our teachers losing their primary focus on teaching and are focusing more time in administrative work at the expense of the students’ learning? There seems to be more time spent marking because the belief is that the quantity of work corresponds to the learning that takes place. The work assigned to the students should test the learning so if the students’ learning is compromised, this will lead to the acquiring of ambiguous knowledge which leads to limited interpretations of what the pupils know. These defeats the core purpose of a teacher’s part in student’s learning.

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Though the results of this survey are not indicative of the sentiments of the teaching fraternity, it does support the claim that Singaporean teachers are burdened with other duties besides teaching. The teachers are mentally and physically exhausted with the other duties and this will invariably compromise the teaching and the students’ learning. Students’ learning is optimized when the teachers’ motivation level is high. If teachers are physically and mentally drained, it hinders the effectiveness of teaching performance in classes. All the initiatives introduced by the government will be fruitless if the teachers’ welfare is not met. If the government wants to sustain a strong education system and a world-class education service, it does not just suffice to provide a broad-based education system. The government has to increase the self-efficacy of teachers – the belief that teachers hold about their capability to influence student learning – by reducing the stress level of teachers by looking into their job scope.

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