Teachers telling it as it is

Teachers today must regain their mantle as a respected voice in society –like their predecessors were in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

For this to happen, the nation’s 430,000 teachers must set an example for society by being a positive presence on social media and by being involved in community activities, said National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) president Aminuddin Awang.

“Our society now centres on social media. So, to stay connected with parents and students, teachers must keep abreast of these technological developments and be a good example on social media,” he told StarEdu.

Reminding teachers that their purpose is to produce well-rounded students in the physical, emotional, spiritual, social and intellectual aspects, he said teachers must strive to help students score an A in every subject, while inculcating a positive attitude, good character and humanistic values in their five million charges nationwide.

Our teachers are among the best in the world but they are not free to carry out teaching and learning (PdP) as they see fit, Aminuddin lamented, adding there are too many guidelines that must be followed.

“They often have to deal with officers who claim to want to help but are instead causing more problems and hindering teacher creativity. Teachers know what is best for their students. There is no need to tell them how to do their jobs.

“They have faced and handled various challenges with responsibility and dedication, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Low student attendance is also at a worrying level, said Aminuddin.

“It is difficult to carry out PdP effectively when attendance is poor. When these absentees fall behind in their studies, teachers are blamed.”

Children today are also too pampered, he said.

Every grouse against a teacher is taken seriously. Sometimes complaints, which are not necessarily true, are brought to the attention of the teacher’s superior.

“When complaints are made, the teacher will be investigated, and this can be embarrassing and demoralising. In the end, teachers are no longer motivated to give their best.”Malaysians, said Aminuddin, are still trapped in the old mindset when it comes to student achievement and assessment.

“Parents only want to see As. They don’t trust classroom-based assessments, which is very disappointing because teachers evaluate students’ mastery level based on the ministry’s guidelines.”


Value our teachers

Quality education is the most powerful tool for all children to realise their potential, said Teach For Malaysia (TFM) chief executive officer Chan Soon Seng, and this begins with the quality of our teachers.

“The attractiveness of our teaching profession, however, has continually dropped over the past decade, perhaps contributing to the trend of teachers leaving the profession or retiring early,” he said.

While salary is often the first point of scrutiny, increasing salary or minimum entry criteria alone is not enough. One of the ways to make the teaching career more attractive is to reform career progression to focus on merit-based promotions, he offered.

“To apply for a time-based promotion, DG41 and DG44 teachers must have taught for at least eight full years, which is a high opportunity cost compared to the progression available in other areas of the civil service and the private sector. Moreover, current pathways to becoming a teacher are extremely limited, with nearly all trainees going through Institutes of Teacher Education (IPG).

“It is very difficult for graduates of other backgrounds to enter the system, let alone competent and experienced individuals looking for a career change,” Chan explained.

He suggested the ministry include and calibrate new entry requirements for non-SPM holders and graduates from MQA-accredited private universities. Another avenue to explore could be the introduction of employment-based teacher training schemes, which would allow the ministry to recruit individuals with valuable working experience, he added.

“We need teachers who desire to contribute to the development of our children, nation and society. Our selection process must go beyond academic qualifications and requirements, to look for individuals who are passionate about education and have distinct leadership attributes,” Chan offered.


Arrest the attrition

Describing the shortage of teachers in schools as very serious, Aminuddin said some schools have up to 10 vacancies to fill.

“Imagine having to bear the heavy burden of teaching, conducting co-curricular activities, and guiding students in their developmental years,” he said, adding that early retirement among teachers is currently at a worrying level.

Aminuddin expects the number of applications to hit 10,000. The estimate, he explained, was based on the number of retirement benefit claims made by the union’s welfare fund members.

“The trend of teachers opting to leave the profession is driven by the stress of having to do irrelevant administrative and data entry tasks on outdated online systems,” he said, adding that principals, headteachers, and officers from state and district education departments are also constantly pressuring them about deadlines.

There are, however, teachers who want to retire early due to health or family reasons. Those who have served for over 30 years want to retire early because they are entitled to 60% of their salaries as pension.

The good news is that there are thousands of aspiring teachers waiting in the wings but there is a delay in appointing them to permanent positions, Aminuddin shared. These passionate talents already have either a bachelor’s degree in education, or a degree in other fields but with a diploma in education, and are waiting to hear from the Education Service Commission.

He, however, advised those who are accepted to be ready for postings in remote areas as there are 10,233 schools nationwide.

Some young teachers posted to states like Sabah and Sarawak, he said, reject the offer as they were unwilling to be away from their families.

“My first posting was in the interiors of Kelantan which could only be reached by train. I was there for seven years.

“There was no water and electricity supply. Health services were hard to access and I had to cook my own meals.

“But these challenges made me more patient and resilient.

”It is undeniable, said Universiti Malaya Education Faculty senior lecturer and teacher-trainer Assoc Prof Dr Zuwati Hasim, that working conditions are among the factors that have caused some young teachers to quit.

The salary, she said, also is not commensurate with the work demands. And pay rise for teaching staff is seldom brought up in budget discussions.

“Teacher attrition may also occur due to burnout, lack of support, and a heavy workload.

We must conduct a teacher attrition study if we are to address the underlying issues within the context of Malaysia,” she said, adding that the Unesco teacher retention recommendations are a good guide.

Among the strategies outlined in 2015, she said, were the need to improve working conditions for teachers so that they feel appreciated; provide them with external professional development and internship opportunities; and consider class size and teaching load to ensure that teachers are able to recognise individual student needs.

The quality of an education system, said Chan, is limited by the quality of its teachers.

To keep up with a quickly changing education landscape, teachers’ development must be seen as a journey of lifelong learning. Teachers face many challenges in professional development, including a lack of relevant programmes, and insufficient opportunities and support from school leadership, which make matters worse, he added.

Better support

While calling for teacher training programmes and the teaching environment to be improved, Zuwati also stressed the need for continuous teacher professional development courses for in-service teachers and empowering them through teacher-led learning circles where they can work collaboratively and learn from each other. Professional development courses, she said, should be conducted by institutions that offer certifications as this can serve to motivate teachers to upskill and reskill themselves.

Certification, she said, ensures teachers have up-to-date skills to apply as part of their pedagogical practice.

It also shows that they have attained a level of quality in PdP, she added.


“Certifications can also help raise the status of the teaching profession and the level of respect and recognition for teachers.

“It is also imperative that teachers have access to good PdP facilities because this creates a conducive working environment and job satisfaction. Happy teachers means happy learners and an overall improvement in instructional quality and student outcome.”

A group of TFM alumni have put together a detailed report on ending education inequity, based on their experiences as policymakers, analysts, and leaders of their own social enterprises. The report, titled “Journey to End Education Inequity: A Report”, addresses high-impact areas to unlock quality teaching and learning in schools, said Chan.

“We must develop a robust instrument to assess teachers’ areas of development, and identify the most-needed activities.“Teachers must be given access to the resources and funding necessary to fully participate in professional development activities.

“And the support system from school leadership to identify needs and access appropriate opportunities has to be strengthened,” he said, adding that it is crucial to explore the applicability and effectiveness of resource management mechanisms used in high-performing education systems in other countries.

The ministry, he said, should publish more transparent data on student outcomes, to foster greater public trust in teachers as a reliable source of information on students’ holistic growth, particularly as we shift to school-based assessments.

I’m thankful for the many teachers who have inspired me. In school, they guided and pushed me to keep striving for greater heights in my academic and co-curricular activities. I still keep in touch with some of my primary and secondary school teachers. I’m now studying in Swansea, Wales, and they still keep in touch to ask me how I’m doing. I regard them as more than just teachers because they’re like my parents from school. After I lost my mother to cancer in Form Four and my father had to go on a business trip, one of my primary school teachers even offered to let me stay with her and sent me to school every day for two weeks. These teachers mean so much to me. I can never thank them enough for everything they have done for me. – Wong Hoi Kei, 21

I admire Cikgu Adura Azlin Ishak very much because he is a charismatic teacher. Even though he is very busy, he still finds time to respond to questions from all his students. Ever generous with his knowledge, he even allowed me to share the SPM 2022 Chemistry trial papers with my friends online. He is easygoing and is always open to discussions. Terima kasih, Cikgu, for your hard work in guiding us through our SPM 2022 exam.– Aaron Lim, 18

I have been blessed with great teachers – Ms Sharmilaa, Ms Lilian, Ms Tan and so many others – throughout my life. They selflessly imparted their wisdom and were more than just subject teachers. They left me with valuable life lessons that shaped who I am today. Having a good relationship with my teachers makes learning enjoyable. They never act like they are superior to me. Knowing that I can be friendly with them puts me at ease so I can ask questions, especially about subjects I am weak in. My teachers inspire me to work hard, to aim as high as I can, and to never stop learning. I respect their genuine dedication and their sincere wishes to see their students flourish for a better future.– Ong Li Zhen, 19

All students featured here are participants of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

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