Friday, February 09, 2007

Sucks to be a Chinese Teacher

My old man got an offer two weeks back to do long term relief teaching at a certain primary school in Ang Mo Kio(I won't name it). Being bored out of his mind, and with me and my mom fervently wishing he would get out of our hair for some time, and finally for the extra moolah, of course he accepted.

And we were so happy. No more complaining about my late nights(xiaodi, ming tian hai yao jiao ke!), no more harping on the need to finish my marking asap, and sundry other stuff that we teachers have to deal with.

That happiness lasted until he met his new classes. It turned out that in the past 4 weeks, the classes(IIRC, 2 P4 classes, 1 P5 class) had already churned through no less than 3 chinese teachers. Their first chinese teacher for the year had lasted all of one day.

Bravo. And just today, he told me that one teacher was driven out in tears from another class.

Dinner conversation nowadays is characterised by moaning and groaning about
1. The standard of chinese being taught to students.
2. The poor discipline in schools
3. The failing education system

I must admit I am really a bit discomfitted by his remarks. Hey dad, that's the education system your wage-slave son is working for, capish? Couldn't you give him a bit of hope?

It's always been an interesting issue, education systems. Singapore's system is essentially a public one with private sector options, but the ministry of education still holds many(too many) of the strings.

There was a spate of heated debates over the past few years over the harsh treatment of students by teacher and/or principals, verbal, mental, or physically. A thwap across the back of the head, a mild rebuke in the past, was blown up into a major issue. A harsh verbal barrage by a JC teacher against a student, videotaped and placed on the net.

My dad keeps complaining about the falling standards in discipline in schools today, and I guess there's nobody who'll disagree with him.

So why has that happened? And what measures can be taken to arrest the slide, or even reverse it? And finally, should we reverse it at all?

The usual reason given is that parents are more protective nowadays, that children are more aware of their rights, etc. All of that is true, but I find it amusing that at the same time, we keep accusing our government of being overly paternalistic and authoritarian. Well, if the state has that much control over our lives, surely it can make the lives of us teachers, civil servants the most of us, easier by granting us somewhat greater leeway in disciplining our students. Parents being more protective wouldn't have meant one iota to the state; they're just small fry, and it can make us teachers pretty comfortable.

The truth is that it hasn't, and couldn't. Because the state never had that much power in the first place. Enough to place rather gilded shackles on teachers and principals, but not enough over the general public. The ministry is still headed by the ministers of education, and they are elected folks who work for the voters. The government rises and falls by its popularity amongst the voting public. Parents are voters, and if the treatment of their children rubs them the wrong way, heads will roll. I think the PAP would rather spend their political capital and good will on other matters.

Now, I am sure there are the people who will simply cry out for the state to do something, anything. The truth of the matter is that it can't without taking a significant hit in the elections. That's why all the kid-glove treatment nowadays of recalcitrant students, those with parents who have the clout, influence, and education to make themselves heard. Principals are rated by MOE too, and I believe that one of the benchmarks is the numbers of complaints from parents received by the ministry for any given principal.

So since the situation is 'alamak, liddat', what can be done?

My suggestion: More liberalisation, less centralisation. I'll explain in a later post.