Working conditions for teachers in Singapore appear to have improved, with educators putting in fewer hours each week now than they did five years ago. This is because they are spending less time on administrative work and marking, which also gives them more time to teach, according to a new global survey.
However, they still work longer hours – 46 per week – than their overseas counterparts, who clock an average of 39 hours a week and also spend more time in the classroom than teachers here, according to the Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis) released on Wednesday (June 19).
What this survey is about
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study, which polled 260,000 teachers worldwide, found that Singapore teachers worked two hours fewer each week than the 48 they reported in the earlier Talis study in 2013.
This makes teachers here 7th most hardworking in the world, down from third in the 2013 survey. Japan’s teachers came up top with 56 hours, followed by Kazakhstan and Alberta, Canada.
The five-yearly survey of teachers across the world is conducted by the OECD to help countries review policies to improve their teaching profession and provide information on teacher education and professional development, their workload, instructional beliefs and teaching practices.
A total of 48 education systems joined the latest study, and this is Singapore’s second time participating.
About 3,300 teachers and 167 principals in Singapore from all 157 secondary schools and a random selection of 12 private schools took the online questionnaire from September to October 2017.
SG teachers now have more time to teach
Teachers here spent most of their time on actual teaching, reporting 18 hours per week, up by an hour from 2013. However, this is still less than the OECD average of 21 hours.
They also reported a drop in the time spent on administrative work, from 5.3 hours in 2013 to 3.8 hours last year, and marking, from 8.7 hours in 2013 to 7.5 hours last year.
The OECD averages for administrative work and marking were 2.7 hours and 4.2 hours respectively.
Lesson preparation for Singapore teachers took up 7.2 hours last year, down from 8.4 hours in 2013.
Director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong said on Wednesday that the reduction of two hours in teachers’ workload can be attributed largely to their having less administrative work.
“This is indeed gratifying to know, because the ministry has put in quite a number of initiatives to try and reduce teachers’ administrative workload, for example, in terms of attendance marking, in terms of consent forms that are necessary, when they take students on learning journeys,” he said.
(Also read: 5 ways to get along with your child’s teacher better)
Teachers here use innovative teaching methods
The Talis survey also found more Singapore teachers are using innovative methods in their classrooms to teach and assess students.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Wednesday that more teachers express confidence in using various assessment approaches to evaluate students’ understanding of concepts and topics taught. They now use assessment strategies such as observation, quizzes and group work, and not just tests and examinations alone.
MOE noted that 76 per cent of teachers felt they were able to use a repertoire of assessment methods, up from 72 per cent in 2013. And 77 per cent provide written feedback on students’ work frequently, compared with 72 per cent in 2013.
In Singapore, as well as across the countries surveyed such as Finland and Japan, more than seven in 10 teachers spent time on fundamentals such as presenting content clearly, applying everyday examples from real life to knowledge and telling students to follow classroom rules.
But compared with five years ago, more teachers are also adopting learning approaches that involve higher-order thinking such as collaboration and critical thinking.
Some 45 per cent of Singapore teachers get their students to form small groups to come up with solutions to problems, up from 33 per cent in 2013. And 43 per cent let students use information and communications technology for projects or class work, up from 30 per cent before. More of them – 34 per cent – also give students projects that require at least a week to complete, compared with 27 per cent previously.
MOE said that recent announcements to scrap some mid-year examinations in favour of more time on other forms of assessment will continue to encourage teachers to try more creative teaching methods.
Said Mr Wong: “It is heartening to know that our teachers are increasingly deploying pedagogies that help our students apply knowledge to become deeper learners. They are learning not just content, but applying it to global contexts, to solve real-world problems.”
First career choice for most teachers
The Talis report also said teaching was the first career choice for seven in 10 Singapore teachers, and nearly all of them cited being able to influence the development of young children and people, and contributing to society, as reasons for joining the profession.
Teachers here are also more qualified and well-trained than those abroad. Almost all – 96 per cent – of schools here have a mentoring programme for teachers, compared with 64 per cent of schools across OECD countries.
Nearly all teachers and principals here also have taken part in some professional development, such as attending courses, peer learning and information sharing with other teachers.
Orchid Park Secondary School principal Shawal Hussin, 50, said schools are always looking for ways to free up time so teachers can “concentrate on their bread and butter, which is teaching”.
“In the past, teachers used to do everything, but in the last few years, duties like booking buses for excursions and liaising with vendors are done by admin staff,” he said. “We also try to merge similar programmes and have more collaboration across departments so one activity can meet more learning aims.
“A lot is expected of teachers here – they handle co-curricular activities, character education – but it’s part of the job and new teachers are also given some time to ease into it.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.