Sunday, September 26, 2010


 A teacher-training workshop

It's another two months before the end of the school year but the independent and private schools are already being overwhelmed by parents wanting to enroll their children for Form 1 next year. The principal of one such school that I visited recently told me they had to turn away hundreds of students as they didn't have enough classrooms to accommodate all who had applied. In the last five years, the number of  Form 1 classes in that school had jumped from five to 14.

It is no secret that public schools, including former elite schools, have lost their appeal. Parents are aware of the rot that has been seeping in over the years, and are turning to the private schools for their children's high school education despite the much higher fees. Many of our ministers, including our former Minister of Education, send their children to international schools here or boarding schools abroad. They too have little faith in our public school system.

How many of our teachers can honestly say they are superior or great teachers?

Without quality teachers, there can be no quality education. That to me is the crux of the problem. Our public schools are filled with deadwood teachers who are just marking time till their retirement. To them, teaching is a job, not a calling. Of course, there are teachers who are passionate about their work, but their numbers are small. The ministry has the clout but lacks the guts to tell deadwood teachers to shape up or risk losing their salary increments. It doesn't want to risk upsetting the teachers. Even the Minister of Education is reluctant to take disciplinary action against errant principals.

If the Minister of Education who is also the Deputy Prime Minister says he can't discipline errant head teachers, it says a lot about his effectiveness (or lack of) as a decision-maker. (The Star: 26 Sept '10)

There should be stringent vetting of applicants for teacher training. Take English as an example. To teach the subject, applicants must speak and write well in the language. An A for English in the SPM means little if the applicant can barely communicate in the language.

One way to attract the best students to take up teaching as a career is through competitive salaries and ample opportunities for career advancement. Pay top dollar and we'll have top graduates queuing for teacher-training and teaching vacancies. Surely the future of our children and of our country is worth every cent?

Global management firm McKinsey recently released a report "Closing the Talent Gap: Attracting and Retaining Top-Third Graduates to Careers in Teaching" which looks at school systems and the teaching profession in 50 countries. It cites Singapore, Finland, and South Korea as examples of countries where the teaching profession recruits the very best and brightest, gives them paid training and retains them with merit increments, performance bonuses and outstanding contribution awards.

No wonder these countries have consistently ranked among the world's best in maths and science.

The Education Ministry's deputy director-general for policy recently spoke about giving every child in Malaysia access to quality education. He said schools will be ranked based on their performance. The rankings will be published annually.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's the same old refrain, year in year out.

Last January, the Education Ministry announced the top 20 best performing schools in the country. I took the trouble to do a google search of some of the schools on the list. Guess what? Most of them don't even have a website. Those with an online presence have websites that are either not updated, or carry little of interest. So much for the top Malaysian schools in this age of technology!

Our education system is in dire need of a complete overhaul starting with improving the quality of teachers. No more piecemeal cosmetic makeovers, and flip-flopping over policies. Time for the Minister of Education to roll up his sleeves and walk the talk.

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