Binding teachers with short-term contracts instead of tenure will ensure that they are held accountable for their work performance and the academic achievements of their students.
AN ENGLISH language teacher enters a class, opens the textbook and instructs her students to read a few chapters. Then, she pulls out a women’s magazine from her handbag and is so engrossed reading, she barely hears the school bell ring until reminded by her students.
The scenario is almost similar in another school where a teacher tells her pupils to work on the exercises in their workbooks, while she clears her excessive paperwork.
While their indifference may not be atypical of most teachers in government schools, they are a small but growing group of ineffective and incompetent teachers who are not being held accountable for their job performance.
What is it that makes them so? Could it be because of job security in the civil service? As it is now, teachers – like others in the government – get steady increments based primarily on their educational qualifications and years of service.
However, the dynamics of all this is changing as there are some quarters who strongly feel that teachers should give up the safety of a tenure in exchange for a pay structure that rewards merit and hard work.
As it is, there are the odd ones who have tarnished the image of the profession but who continue to remain in it. They are the teachers who are in a way “protected” and benefit from the tenure.
Many of those who spoke to StarEducation are in favour of the proposal of giving teachers an employment contract instead of tenure. Their main contention is that teaching tenure is a barrier in getting rid of teachers who are indifferent and ineffective in their jobs.
Some feel that matters related to teachers’ incompetency are simply swept under the carpet. Lack of motivation, burn out, depression and moral misconduct are some of the issues that are not openly discussed.
Sara*, who has been teaching for about three years, says that most people are drawn to the profession because of the “iron rice bowl” (a Chinese idiom used to refer to a profession that offers very high job security).
“The problem is that incompetent teachers are still allowed to continue teaching in schools. My lazy colleagues don’t get penalised at all,” she says.
Senior teacher Wong* of Klang says teachers are rarely sacked unless he or she commits a serious crime.
“Teachers are not easily dismissed. They are usually transferred to another school ,” he says.
Pang*, a retired teacher from Penang, adds that many are simply not cut out for the job, or have lost the passion to teach, but remain in the system for job security and the pension it brings after retirement.
“When there are ineffective teachers in a school, dedicated teachers are expected to cover for those who are not. It is like hiring two people to do the job of one teacher.
“That’s when you hear complaints and stories of teachers’ burn-out. It is very taxing for teachers, who are already loaded with work, being instructed to take on additional tasks to help out their incompetent colleagues,” says Pang who taught for 32 years.
To address the problem, the Education Ministry will introduce the Teacher Professionalism Standard next year, in line with the New Economic Model.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong says that the standard would focus on the selection of trainee teachers, pre-service training, teachers’ placement, professional induction and continuous professional development.
While teacher training elements remain important, he says that the current employment system also needs to be re-examined.
National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) president Hashim Adnan is quick to point out that the number of incompetent or goyang kaki teachers are “just a handful”, and school heads have learnt how to deal with them.
“There is no need to have contracts drawn up for individual teachers,” he adds.
While tenure protects incompetent teachers, it also gives dedicated teachers job security that they rightly deserve.
National Parent-Teacher Association Collaborative Council president Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Mohamad Ali Hasan says a tenure gives a teacher the confidence and a conducive environment to work in, adding that teachers need to be evaluated periodically based on the five Ps - professionalism, passion, patience, proactiveness and performance.
“I am concerned that drawing out contracts for teachers will only backfire, and may even bring our education system to a standstill. What is the point of giving them an attractive job contract if there is no job security?” he says.
Dr Mohamad Ali further opines that contracts are drawn up when parties are unsure, or are distrustful of each other.
Abdul Halim*, a primary school headmaster in Shah Alam, says that cash incentives for head teachers and teachers who have proven to have contributed significantly to bolster the academic performance of their respective schools would be a better idea than employment contracts.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Education Minister, had recently said such incentives were in line with the concept of giving priority to performance and output under the education National Key Results Area (NKRA) of the Government Transformation Programme (GTP).
NUTP secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng responded saying that these incentives will act as motivating factors, instead of enforcing contracts which will make teachers feel “dispensable and not have a sense of belonging to the school.”
“It (tenure), unfortunately, protects good as well as bad teachers,” says Pang, adding that it has become a sore point and the cause of growing anger and unhappiness amongst teachers.
Would it have made a difference if teachers, like some professionals, were offered a teaching job under contract and be rewarded according to their work performance?
“No,” says Pang. “Whether the results are good or otherwise, teachers have been given specific tasks in and outside class. They also bogged down with unnecessary paper work.
“So it is nor fair for some quarters to link a teacher’s capabilities with her students’ performance.”
Sara says that using student achievements to measure a teacher’s performance will not be fair to those who are asked to teach weaker classes.
“This may even backfire and discourage teachers from teaching students who are weak in their studies,” she says.
However, she concedes that in today’s world, where parents are more demanding when it comes to their children’s education, it is only fair that teachers are given a contract and evaluated regularly.
“Many teachers will be very unhappy if contracts are drawn up, but it will be fairer to teachers who are dedicated and committed to their job,” says Sara, adding that such contractual evaluations must be fair and accurate.
Mother of two primary schoolchildren P. Anushia is of the view that a performance-based contract will motivate teachers to work hard. Such a contract, she says, will ensure that teachers are held accountable for matters pertaining to student learning and even character development.
At the same time, it will also help weed out teachers who are deemed incompetent and unfit to teach, she adds.
Some may say that the entire debate over teachers’ tenure will be irrelevant if teacher selection is stringent, and only those who are are genuinely interested in the teaching profession should be selected and trained.
As Anushia says: “With parents placing emphasis on education, it is only fair that the competent and dedicated teachers are given the job.”
* Names have been changed.