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If education is the key to Singapore’s success, why do few parents want their children to become teachers?




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Singapore attributes its success to its educational system, touted by other countries as one of the best, if not the best, in the world. In fact, an article in The Economist practically begins with “Today, Singapore’s education system is considered the best in the world.” This is a distinction that the Lion City shares with Finland, though the two countries differ widely as to teaching methodologies.

After all, Lee Kwan Yew famously said that the country’s strategy for success lay in developing “Singapore’s only available natural resource: its people”.

The Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Status Index 2018, from a group based in the United Kingdom, published a report on Thursday, November 8, showing a few noteworthy things about teaching in Singapore.

—Teachers’ salaries are twice the amount than what the public perceives
—They have longer working hours than teachers in almost every other country in the world, with New Zealand being the only exception.
—Less than one-third of Singaporean parents would tend to encourage their children to become teachers

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Let’s look at the figures for each item above. Public perception of teachers’ salaries estimates it to be at S$ 38,582, as opposed to the actual starting salary of S$ 68,954. In fact, according to the study which includes 35 countries, teachers in Singapore receive the third-highest salaries, coming in after Switzerland and Germany.

As for working hours, teachers in Singapore work 52 hours a week, taking second place in the study, with only New Zealand’s teachers working longer, but by just a little bit, as they log in 52.1 hours weekly.

Perhaps the most surprising result is the third one—that less than one third, 31 percent to be exact, of parents would encourage their children to take up teaching as a profession. In 2013, that figure was at 35 percent, which makes Singapore one of the few countries where this statistic went down in the last 5 years.

The smallness of this figure seems to be a little puzzling, since according to the report, Singaporeans gave the country’s educational system a 7.12 on a scale of 1 to 10, the third highest rating among all countries surveyed, after Finland and Switzerland, which gave their countries a grade of 8 and 7.2, respectively. Singapore’s score of 7.12 this year is a significant increase from its previous score of 6.7 in five years ago.

The low number of parents who want their children to become teachers is even more surprising given the high respect teachers are given not only in Singapore but in many parts of Asia. In Singapore, 63 percent say that students respect their teachers. China ranked the highest in this aspect, with 81 percent, while in India the number is 77 percent. Malaysians have the highest percentage of pupils who hold school principals in high regard.

Back in 2013, only 47 percent of Singaporeans said that students respect their teachers.

This seeming dissonance between how much respect there is for teachers and how few parents want to encourage their children to become teachers may pose problems later on, especially since the country most likely would want to keep, and even improve the high standard of education it already enjoys.

According to the survey, “At an individual profession level, there is a strong correlation between status and pay – that is, professions considered higher status by respondents are also considered higher paid.

The higher the respect for teachers, the more likely a person is to encourage their child to enter the profession. This holds even when controlling for pay levels, indicating a lack of association between the wages of teachers and whether a parent would encourage their child to enter the profession.”

So in order for more Singaporeans to encourage their children to enter the teaching profession, perhaps a perspective shift is in order. Maybe if more Singaporeans need a better awareness of how well teachers are paid, together with the respect they enjoy, more parents would push their children toward a career in the academe.

Read also: Can Singapore’s middle class afford a good education for their kids?

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