Raise the bar for teaching applicants

WHEN I decided to become a teacher a few years ago, I was ridiculed by some relatives and friends. They wanted me to have a more challenging ambition. Teaching did not fit their idea of a "dream job".

I pursued teaching because it provides me with an intangible spiritual dividend that cannot be derived from any other career.

To reform our education system, we should begin by rejuvenating its heart and soul – our teachers.

The education minister said that he is seeking inspiration from Finland to revamp our education system.

The Finnish people celebrate their teachers as national heroes. This admiration springs from a crucial reform initiated in 1979.

Finland requires applicants for teaching to have a master's degree and practise at one of its eight public universities – at state expense.

This move has transformed teaching into a highly prized profession in Finland.

In 2010, it was reported that some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots. But, applicants have to clear a stringent selection process. According to the Centre on International Education Benchmarking, only one in 10 Finnish students who apply to teacher education programmes are admitted.

In Malaysia, there was a similar attempt to elevate the stature of our teaching profession. In the 2013-2025 National Education Blueprint, it was outlined that only the top 30% of graduates will be recruited for teaching. Little has been spoken ever since regarding this target.

There's another example closer home. A 2013 study revealed that Singapore has the most highly paid teachers among 21 countries surveyed. Trainee teachers in Singapore are paid while they are studying – something that Malaysian trainee teachers desperately need.

However, uplifting the profession does not necessarily require monetary benefits. In China, teachers are not as well paid. But, China is the only country in the survey that grants teachers equal status with doctors.

The best way for us to begin is by prioritising graduates with an education degree in teachers' recruitment. Ever since teaching was offered as an "open market" course, there's been a surplus of unemployed graduate teachers. But, it is ironic that in 2017, Sarawak hired non-education graduates for 988 positions due to "shortage of teachers".

Our teachers direly need sincere recognition for what they do. What they don't need is sugar-coating their struggles with stale metaphors on Teacher's Day.

Dhesegaan Bala Krishnan