It’s a great tagline.
The recruitment ads for the Ministry of Education sound snazzy and lofty in purpose, but what happens when things sour even before aspiring teachers begin their first lesson proper?
The plight of a young female teaching trainee has once again put the MOE in the spotlight.
She reportedly failed her practicum twice after 4 years of training in the National Institute of Education, or teacher training school.
That means she failed the course, and so broke her bond, saddling her with a S$69,000 debt.
She isn’t the first trainee teacher to face this problem, which many consider a flaw of the system.
That Dotted Line
MOE says that all trainee teachers are required to sign a Teacher Training Agreement before they begin training, and teachers have to complete the training course and serve out their bond as a teacher.
Otherwise, they will have to repay the tuition fees, bursaries and salaries paid by MOE during the course of training.
Should trainee teachers fail the practical teaching module, which comes towards the end of their 4-year training, they will be given another chance to retake it.
They’ll be given the boot if they fail that attempt too.
All these are explained to teaching applicants before they sign on the dotted line bonding them to the ministry.
It’s highly unlikely that any aspiring teacher would sign up with MOE believing they’re not cut out for the job, and neither would they set out to fail.
So is it fair that they be made to repay such a hefty sum to the MOE should things not work out?
Taking a salary allowance of S$1500 a month, a trainee would accumulate some S$72,000 towards the end of 4 years.
In addition to this, there’s also training fees which is due to the NIE for lessons, facilities, and resources used by a trainee.
And if trainees can’t pass the teacher-training course, the MOE shouldn’t allow them out to schools.
They’re supposed to mould our children’s future!
So it does appear fair that trainees who don’t make the grade pay back the bond money, even if the sum is a huge one to the tune of S$80,000.
Think about it, one year in a local university alone is going to set you back around S$7000 today, including a government subsidy.
That amount demanded by MOE includes the salary they paid you during training.
All that Precious Time
Talk to teachers and most would say that THAT practical test is perhaps the most challenging part of the final test of their mettle.
What is this much-feared and much-loathed “practicum”?
Essentially, trainee teachers are made to conduct lessons, in which their performance is assessed by NIE supervisors, the principal and assigned senior teachers from the school they’re made to teach in.
To give trainees two shots at it does appear to be harsh, considering they’ve given up so much of their life so they can live out their aspiration for the rest of it.
Since MOE says only a small number dropout of teacher training, surely arrangements can be made to give aspiring teachers more coaching, and more chances to pass their practicum if that’s the only component they failed?
Moulding the MOE
While the bond amount looks like a huge sum of money, I believe it’s fair that those who fail teacher-training be made to repay those dollars.
They come from public funds.
Then again, if someone dedicates 4 years of their life to training, it’s very unlikely they’re looking to dropout at the last minute.
In other words, it’s probably not a move born out of frivolity.
Can the MOE give them more coaching, and more attempts to pass their failed modules, so that these bright-eye young men and women can fulfil their dreams of moulding the future of our nation?
Also, can the MOE form a team of assessors for the practical test, armed with instructions and guidelines, so there can standardised evaluation?
I believe it can.
Isn’t that what teaching is about – sharpening the skills of our people so they can succeed at what they set their heart to?
Then again, not everyone is cut out for the job, and they find out, unfortunately, 4 years later.
Can the MOE offer more periodic practical assessments, such that teachers are better prepared for that one big moment in the spotlight (the dreaded practicum) ?
And if after that they still don’t make the cut, can there be a compromise, in the form of a half-payment of the bond?
After all, we’re not talking about mid-way dropouts, but those who went the full mile, only to stumble at the last minute.
That sounds compassionate to me, and a fair give-and-take situation.
MOE says only a small number dropout of teacher training, so can we spare the full rod to the young ladies and gentlemen who have given up 4 years of their life, only to see their dreams crashing down towards the finish line?
Look Before You Leap
As for trainees, you should realise that you can’t have your cake and eat it.
Try your hand at contract teaching for awhile to get a feel of the job and see if you’re the right fit.
And the system isn’t budging, and you’ve been forewarned, so save up that monthly allowance.
You never know what can happen at the last hurdle.
And if all turns out well at the end of those 4 years, you’ve got enough cash to put a down-payment for a new car!
(Or whatever you like lah. I like cars.)
This commentary was written by Elson.
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