EDUCATION Minister Dr Maszlee Malik, in his to-do list when he took over as education minister in May, promised major reforms on teacher workload.
Since his appointment he has repeatedly stressed that teachers should focus on nurturing and educating students instead of being burdened with clerical work.
Saying “I feel your pain” is not enough for teachers who want to see tangible solutions and action taken. Teachers want to be assured that any significant changes will lighten their existing workload and working structure to allow time for learning to be delivered effectively.
Last week, Maszlee announced that his ministry was drawing up plans to be presented by the end of the year. If all goes well, teachers will be free of clerical work from next year.
Teachers are encouraged by the news but at the same time sceptical about how the plans can lessen this insurmountable workload. As much as we all want to believe that this would help the teachers, it is not a simple matter of bureaucracy.
Teacher workload is not a new issue, nor is it only unique to this country. Yet, many think that teachers have it easy.
No teacher would disagree that meeting the needs of each individual learner is a key premise of good teaching. Not only students and parents, but teachers are also longing for learning experiences that focus on need and interest.
What we should try to understand is that teachers have been struggling to do this very thing every day with the increasing workload.
Teachers are always desperately trying to find time for their students within an overloaded curriculum that is now powered by data, further impacting the quality of time they spend with their students. The administrative burden takes teachers further away from their students and their needs.
A class teacher in this country, for instance, not only deals with filling in school attendance each day and collecting money from students for school magazines or graduation celebration that has become a trend in every school. They also collect different types of data and write reports all year long for every single activity involving students.
Ironically, while there is the need to shift to a framework better suited to what a 21st century education would look like, our teachers, as I have been told, still spend time writing each of their pupils’ names by hand as required for some documents.
Not only is the workload limiting the capacity of these educators to give their “fullest attention” to teaching and learning, it is impacting on their time to be as creative as they want to be and to spend more time individually with students.
Teachers need time to engage students in topics, time to talk about concepts and time to explore new ideas and correct misconceptions in order to achieve positive results and progress.
The pressure can be particularly great when you are a teacher dealing with a classroom full of students with parents who have high expectations.
Some schools, on the other hand, are composed of children from predominantly dysfunctional families who come from homes with poverty, ignorance and violence that do not nurture, teach nor inspire them.
We expect teachers in those schools to produce heart surgeons out of these students. We expect them to wave a magic wand that will reward them good test scores. We expect somehow the test grades from those students are going to sparkle with proper teaching.
What we have not taken seriously is that we have exhausted the teachers who are drowning in paperwork.
In the United Kingdom recently, Education Minister Damian Hinds launched a series of online resources to help school principals to free their teachers from burdensome responsibilities and focus on what matters: inspiring pupils in their classrooms.
The online toolkit, developed by teachers, school leaders and technology experts, provides advice and workshops on tasks such as pupil feedback and marking, planning and resources, and data management.
These teachers are also provided with ready-made tools to help schools implement new policies and cut down on time-consuming tasks. A series of case studies on how other schools have used technology to streamline process were also shared in the toolkit.
Hinds was committed to tackling the problems when he realised that workload pressure which became the cause of stress that has been pushing teachers into leaving the profession, was the number one complaint among teachers he spoke to.
A recent study conducted by our Education Ministry involving 48,258 respondents found that a total 4.4 per cent or 2,123 teachers were identified as experiencing moderate stress level last year. It is definitely about time that our teachers were treated
as human beings rather than workhorses. Otherwise they will succumb to more stress.
The writer, who left her teaching career more than 20 years ago to take on different challenges beyond the conventional classroom, is NSTP’s education editor for English content