Teachers – it’s not just numbers

WE REFER to the statement by the Education Ministry that it may scale back its annual intake of teachers by half over the next five years as "absolute teacher shortages are no longer an issue for the system".

While the number of teachers required as a whole may seem adequate, weaknesses in the system which have long existed continue to remain unresolved. If there is an excess in the system then channel these teachers to become teaching assistants, for instance, where the benefits can be manifold.

Most prevalent among the weaknesses is still a mismatch of teacher to subject where either students are not assigned a subject teacher or the teacher is made to teach a subject which is not his option and does a poor job of it; relief teachers who often babysit in class have nothing to teach; teachers who go on maternity leave are seldom substituted and students are left without a teacher until she returns; principals and senior assistants to teach non-core subjects, if at all, as their work often takes them away from school.

The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 states that although our teacher to student ratio of 13:1 is still above the OECD average of 16:1, urban schools are in dire straits where the ratio is 35:1. If we are serious about international benchmarking and adopting best practices, with access to a budget of RM52.8 billion for education, then let us see in schools not just more teachers but also those of a higher calibre.

The NUTP for a long time has been urging for teaching assistants to be deployed in schools.

Teaching assistants could understudy teachers particularly those of core subjects to ensure continuity. These teachers could also be assigned non-academic responsibilities of mentor teachers to conduct co-curricular activities, organising projects, managing students, etc relieving them of precious time to better prepare lesson plans. As a result, students will feel more engaging in classroom interaction as prompt delivery of the curriculum is conducted with confidence and being more purposeful from better organised co-curricular activities.

The blueprint which also provides for low or non-performing teachers to be transferred and for the first time, maybe even terminated as a last resort, will require replacements and therefore affect the number of teachers in the system.

We hope that the ministry will address the discrepancies on a school by school basis, intervene at every opportunity, and not be too eager to scale back teacher intake until these perpetual weaknesses in the system are resolved and some semblance of quality teaching re-emerges.

Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE)