Indeed, no one is more critical to a student than the teachers. In Singapore, the teachers are highly regarded. Yet in the pursuit of heightening the education level, local teachers are suffering great burnout and passions that once burn brightly begin to fizzle. Should Singapore adopt the approach Finland has towards theirs?
For a long time, it is not uncommon to find news articles that talks about Finland choosing the top 10% of their teachers in this highly-competive job to teach the students. In fact, it created a mindset that only the cleverest teachers who scored the best marks academically are able to impart knowledge. This is truly a misconception.
In Finland, they do not necessarily go for the cleverest teachers. They have to undergo extrmely rigourous testings before they are considered. In fact, the deliberately accepted those from the top 20% in academic ability and those at the bottom with academically average ability (51-80 marks). The reason for this selection is that they know that one does not need to be academically inclined as long as they posses a passion and potential to be a great teacher. Thus, they do not exclude artists, youth leaders or even young atheletes to become teachers. This is in the belief that these teachers will cooperate with one another and help each other to hone their mastery of the subject as well as teaching abilities.
There is also no criteria set for a teacher who requires Masters to become a teacher as due to their education model earlier; anyone, who wants to continue their education, will receive a Masters sooner or later.
In Singapore, all teachers are required to go through an interview at Ministry of Education before they are selected. There are four ways where a teacher can be recruited:
- After O levels to take on a diploma course as a Music, Food and Consumer or Language teacher
- After degree or mid-career switch where one can sign up to take on the postgraduate degree to be a teacher
- Scholarships for scholars
Thus, the teachers have varying abilities and qualifications when they enter the teaching force – where they are tagged to the tracks of GEO 1 and GEO2. It does not matter if a supposedly- lower qualified teacher can teach better than a GEO 1. Their pay will not be on par as a GEO 1. Furthermore, even if they have obtain the degree – they will be promoted to GEO 1A where they have to start all over again instead of a direct conversion.
As Singapore has neighbourhood and prestigious schools that cater to different student population and operate differently, it generally creates an impression that teachers sent to teach in a prestigious school may likely be better than one who teaches in a neaighbourhood one – even thought it is not true. Some teachers use this their advantage when they leave the profession. This may explain why there is a new stand by MOE that every school is a good school.
Teachers in Finland are never ranked. In fact, they are given full autonomy to create the best learning objectives and requirements to ensure that the students learn. There is no external inspection of schools or standardized testing of children to see if the children have learnt. They believe that by incorporating teacher-tested evaluation will only lead to competition and that teachers should cooperate and share as it is a starting point for growth – the principle of education itself.
Singapore teachers encounter a yearly ranking dubbed the Enhanced Performance Management System. Teachers are tracked by heads of department, principals and ministry officials throughout their professional careers. This allows the ministry to mete out promotions, pay increments and other performance-based awards as part of a formal system of professionalization incentives. For the latest version, school leaders look at 5 categories:
- Quality learning of students
- Character development of students
- Professional Development of students
- Professional Development of Others
- Contributions to Projects / Committee Work
While the process started with good intentions of making teachers reflect on their practices, there have been many instances where it is more reflective of how one is able to ‘market’ themselves to sound more competent than one really is to their school leaders. This results in times where school management promote teachers to higher positions who seem to be less qualified than many others.
Naysayers may love to pull out science and research about how learning styles may not be useful. Yet, in Finland, teachers study learning styles so that they are able to create and meet the learning styles of the various children under their charge. Their classrooms are also strategically decorated and aisles are utilised efficiently with pops of colour and manipulatives so that teachers are able to utilised any part of the school to cater to the various learning styles of the students and strategies to meet their needs. Thus, they believe that they cater to the individualised student.
For most part, teachers in Singapore were taught mostly for mastery of the subject and assessment. The curriculum for teaching do not teach learning styles to the teachers. Thus, Singaporean teachers have to try out various methods of teaching to reach out to their students. Most of the time, without proper guidance, many teachers only resort to chalk-and-talk as well as drill and practice as a means of communication to students.
Thr irony of it all is that most tuition and enrichment centres such as Mindstretchers and Adam Khoo had long picked up that learning styles are vital to a child’s learning. Thus, they conduct lessons utilising these styles and parents often wonder why they work while public teachers are unable to do so.
Although most educators revere John Hattie’s work, Visible Learning, as the bible for teaching strategies and methods, Finland still adopts a smaller-class-size approach even though it was said to have little impact on teaching and learning in the book. Each class is have only 19-21 students at the most. The largest number of students in a school will usualy hover around 900. This allows the teachers to fully interact with all students and get to know them personally – which adds to the positive emotions they feel towards learning. Students usually have the same teacher for a few years and thus, the teacher that they are with are responsible for their growth in social and education aspects.
Most classess in Singapore have around 35-40 students. I have heard of classes that accommodated 45 of them. Schools are encouraged not to have less than 40 students (termed as “a full class”) in a class. In fact, schools with decreasing population will be merged with other schools so that the classess will be meet the quota once more. The Ministry of Education do not wish to adopt the approach of having fewer children in class due to three reasons:
i) it will be more costly to adopt such an approach due to increased manpower
ii) the high scores in PISA is a determining factor that the Singapore is supposed to be on the right track
iii) small class size is not supposed to have a profound impact as research was supposedly to have say so.
Furthermore, the most schools practice the trend of switching teachers every year and thus, students have to get used to different teachers each year. The inclusion of contract teachers and interns meant that students must get used to different teachers at different points of times for a subject. Thus, it is even possible for a class to undergo three to four different teachers for a subject within a year.
Teachers are free to create their own curriculum and plan their lessons. They have no other adminstrative work to carry out.
Teachers are swamped with much adminstrative work which they have to tackle outside their lesson planning and marking. In fact, the EPMS had stated that teachers were supposed to commit their time to projects and committee work as well.
While there are many dedicated teachers who try to shun committee work to plan proper lessons for their students, there are also those prefer to work on school projects and committees as it is the fastest way to be visible to the school management.
Teaching Ideas and Methodology
In Finland, they truly believe in “Teach Less Learn More”. In fact, their lessons are so relaxed and informal that many observers feel that learning is not taking place at all. Some educators even remarked that they have seen more engaging lessons conducted. Called “pedagogical conservatism”, this is where many educators miss the point. It matters a lot when students are given ample time to look through and fully understand the topic at the given time as they are aware that not all children mature at the same time.
They also paid extra attention to how boys and girls like to learn. For example, they notice that girls prefer to work in pairs and groups to boys so that they can share their thoughts and ideas. Girls are also more likely to prefer to have more differentiated instructions. They also include more interactive game-like activities which are able to give supporting feedback, instead of reptitive ones.
In the latest update, the world gasped when they heard that Finland was doing away with subjects and would be teaching according to themes. Interestingly, this thematic interdisciplinary was already popular in many parts of the world but it was not part as an official overhaul of an education system. It was then clarified that Finland would not be scraping subjects all together.
Singapore actually emulates United States in terms of teaching styles and methodology. A quick look through Amazon.com shows thousands of books on education and hundreds more are being produced every year. Ironically, most of these methods are generally the same, albeit with different names. A look through TRAISI will shows hundreds of these courses which teachers are supposed to sign up for and conduct in their lessons. The only issues with these courses are that they are usually condensed and are held for the massess. Thus while some will say these courses are somewhat beneficial as they are exposed to methods they may not have been aware of, they are unable to fully try out these methods due to adminstrative work and such.
Another issue is that Singapore has to squeeze many topics into the curriculum time just to ensure that students are taught that much for the examinations. It lead to teachers becoming very exam-centred and any time spent on analyzing of thought processess of students for an answer may be seen a ‘waste of time’.
Unfortunately, this lowers the ability for the child to take risks as they are always looking for the right answers rather than the thinking processes.
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