A Singapore teacher commemorated his 2nd year of leaving the teaching service by penning a poignant open letter addressed to all Singaporeans explaining the rot at the top of the Singapore education service.
According to the netizen, he left the teaching service on 31 July 2015 not angry with the job or his students, but with the “cruel taskmasters” at the upper echelons of the Singapore education. He wrote that even though he has “fond memories” of watching his students learn and grow, “those fond memories are insufficient to keep one in a highly demanding job made worse by a cruel system and vicious people who call themselves teachers/leaders. Teaching is a noble profession. The best teachers ought to be those who truly represent the values that they preach but unfortunately, those most competent at hypocrisy are the ones who succeed at reaching the summit.”
He compared Singapore’s education system to an “agricultural sector”. Policy makers view schools as “brain farms” and children are simply groomed to become useful adults for the nation in their later working adult lives.
“The corridors echo with questions like “what grade did you get?”and “I miss an A1 by x number of marks”. Have you ever heard students asking each other, “What interesting thing did you learn in class today?” The chief purpose of school is to get a certificate with good grades and eventually get a high paying job. You rarely find people who just love learning and growing their skillsets.”
Comparing the job of the teacher to a high flying “CEO”, he says teachers have to perform 3 very different jobs all for the salary of one job.
“Even teacher performance is judged on our classes’ MSG (Mean subject grade). A teacher must get the class to score well, run the CCAs like the best CEO, take on projects and event management like a corporate highflier and infuse ICT/creative activities as well as differentiate learning materials and instruction for students of different abilities,” he explained. “I don’t know about you but that to me is doing 3 very demanding and specialised jobs every day. I felt like a mad person juggling with guilt, exhaustion and trying to make sure all 3 jobs are fulfilled.”
Warning that the SIngapore education system’s fixation with numbers is detrimental to the country in the long run, he revealed these hard truths. “The nation is morbidly fascinated with numbers and figures. It has achieved top rankings in many aspects. The very figures that really matter have however remained poor through the years. Productivity figures remain pathetic, inventions and products that capture world attention remains scarce and the salaries/quality of life has gone stagnant. Students hate school, don’t like to read and are mostly uninterested to learn. Creativity, innovation and the love for learning cannot thrive in a deterministic environment.”
After the birth of his first son, he also began to realize that there were more important things in life than trying to fight a system of “cruel taskmasters.
“Along with the guilt, exhaustion and trying to make sure all 3 jobs are fulfilled, I had to be a good father, husband and son. I knew it wasn’t worth trying to go against my conscience or fight the cruel taskmasters. I knew it was futile trying to achieve the numbers when the rules were clearly against me. I knew I only had 24 hours and I was at most a teacher who did the bare minimum in the eyes of those “leaders”. I did what I could by showing the students I cared. I tried to make them love Literature and reading. I marked their exam scripts with an oxygen mask on in my hospital bed breathless with pneumonia. The last blow was probably being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease. I walked out knowing I did all I could and it was never enough. Even my body was giving up. I am sure many out there will call me incompetent and weak or have already done so.”
“What prompted me to write this is a really poignant conversation on WhatsApp with an ex-colleague who is a dedicated teacher. This is a person who gave decades of her life to public service, whose work is always done with pride and excellence. I felt her deep pain, anguish and disappointment as she shared her horrible horrible experiences with the leadership. In her time of need and support, she is treated with contempt. I believe like her, there are many teachers out there who love their jobs and dedicate much of their adult lives to the students they care for deeply. When they are at their most vulnerable, they are treated unfairly and disrespectfully to the point of humiliation. Why? To be honest I have no answers. I only think think she deserved more than this.”
Addressing his letter to all Singaporeans, whether parent, teacher or policy maker, he asked them to consider these questions:
“What is the point of moulding other people’s children and leaving your own child in childcare?
What is the point of getting an award or promotion for being the best teacher but your own family view you as an absent father, mother, wife, husband, son and daughter?
What is the point of exchanging your youth for titles that are fleeting?
What is the point if you gain the whole world and lose your life?
…and I knew it was time to say goodbye.”