Side Views

New school year, old problem — Lim Sue Goan

January 03, 2013

JAN 3 — When actually can the Chinese primary school teacher shortage problem be solved?

Last year, the Cabinet instructed the special committee on shortage of teachers in Chinese primary schools, headed by Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong, to hold roundtable meetings and draw up a long-term strategy to completely solve the problem.

It seems hopeless to solve the shortage of teachers in the SRJKC this year. Wee estimated that the shortage of teachers this year would drop to three digits for the first time from four digits last year. However, Johor Baru district Chinese Primary School Development Committee chairman Huang Jian Feng said that more than 1,000 teachers are still needed to fill the vacancies in Chinese primary schools.

The problem of a teacher shortage in the SRJKC has existed for decades. This is a weakness in planning and over the years only piecemeal measures have been taken, such as hiring temporary teachers to meet urgent needs, but there was no solution to the overall problem over all these years. This year, the Education Ministry again rushed to hand over teacher-to-be lists to state Education Departments and the situation is expected to be stabilised only in the second week of the new school year.

In fact, not only Chinese primary schools are facing a teacher shortage, the SRK is also facing a shortage of English teachers. During a recent visit to India, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak proposed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the recruitment of teachers from India who are fluent in English. Earlier, Malaysia had also recruited 75 English teachers from the US.

Incredibly, the Federation of Chinese Associations of Malaysia (Hua Zong) did not oppose the import of Indian teachers. Instead, it asked the government to bring in also teachers from China to teach in Chinese primary schools, as well as Chinese independent schools.

The problem of a teacher shortage should be addressed from its root, namely to strengthen the training for local teachers instead of relying on foreign teachers. How are foreign teachers, who would come and go, establish an education system with local features, let alone drive the country to become an advanced state?

Manufacturing, construction, plantations, food and beverage industry, furniture and other labour-intensive sectors are now dominated by foreign labour. If even the education field allows access to foreigners, together with the need to bring in foreign engineers due to the sharp decrease in science stream students, the employment field will sooner or later be hollowed out. All sectors would be dominated by foreigners and Malaysians would collectively degenerate and become blunt.

In addition to the Education Ministry’s planning, the shortage of teachers might also be related to the teacher training courses. Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin pointed out in July last year that the ministry was very concerned about the decline in English proficiency among students. The ministry also found that some among the 60,000 English teachers being tested were actually not eligible to teach English. Therefore, these teachers needed to be retrained.

Retraining after training would not only waste national resources, but also lead to work dovetail problems.

Also, the decline in the quality of local university graduates has resulted in many of them failing to meet the requirements in the workplace. As a result, the government is forced to spend money for retraining. Of course, there is no exception for fresh teachers.

Since the existing teachers are not competent, the Education Ministry plans to offer contracts to 600 retired English teachers, showing that young teachers are not as good as veteran teachers. Quality decline is an issue as a whole involving primary students, secondary students, university students and teachers, and it has now formed a vicious cycle.

From planning, bringing in foreign teachers to teachers’ attitude in complaining about the new school-based assessment system (PBS), it is worrying that whether the ambitious targets of the National Education Blueprint are achievable.

Education is the foundation of a country and it will be doomed if the system is full of loopholes! —

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.