MOE looking at allowing teachers to go on sabbaticals to recharge, gain new perspectives: Chan Chun Sing
SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Education is mulling ways to progressively roll out ways for teachers to take systematic breaks or sabbaticals to recharge themselves and pick up new perspectives and skills, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Tuesday (Nov 2).
- The Ministry of Education is looking at granting teachers systematic breaks to recharge
- Education Minister Chan Chun Sing was addressing questions in Parliament about teachers' increasing workloads during the pandemic
- Other longer-term methods in the works include the use of technology to help plan classes
- He reminded parents that they can be part of the problem
- For instance, there are parents who call teachers at midnight to ask about their children’s lesson plan or attire for the next day
SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Education (MOE) is mulling ways to progressively roll out ways for teachers to take systematic breaks or sabbaticals to recharge themselves and pick up new perspectives and skills, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Tuesday (Nov 2).
This is on top of other measures that are in the works, such as the use of technology to shape teaching resources, which are designed to help teachers cope with the rising workloads and look after their mental health.
He was responding to questions by Mr Patrick Tay, Member of Parliament (MP) for Pioneer, and Dr Wan Rizal, MP for Jalan Besar Group Representation Constituency, who had asked about ways to alleviate the stress faced by educators, given the increased demands placed on them during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Tay, in a supplementary question, also asked about concrete steps that MOE can take to reduce pressures on teachers and educators to support their work-life harmony.
Mr Chan said: “I do not think that our teachers are afraid to work hard. But in working hard, they must be given a sense of agency that they are in control, that they are doing things with conviction.”
Besides the need to give teachers and school leaders autonomy to customise programmes for the students’ needs, the minister also stressed the important role that other stakeholders, such as parents, have to play.
Giving an example, he told the House that many teachers often entrust their mobile numbers with students in case they “get into trouble” outside school hours, so that teachers can intervene when students face family issues like being kicked out of home.
But in doing so, some parents abuse this trust by calling the teachers directly after schooling hours, Mr Chan said.
“It is one thing for the child to call the teacher at midnight to say that he's in trouble, but it is another thing for the parent to call up the teacher at midnight to ask whether the child has spelling tomorrow and (whether he) should wear a red or blue T-shirt.”
It is a learning experience for students if they forget details about next day’s class, so parents who call teachers after hours are thus depriving their children of the chance to learn from their mistakes, Mr Chan added.
There is thus a need to establish a clear understanding of the expectations of parents and society, since many of these expectations end up being projected onto teachers, he said.
“This is the reason why I want to strengthen the partnership between the schools and parent support groups (for parents to help one another) in setting expectations... so that we can have a strong partnership between parents and teachers in bringing up our children.”
He reiterated the steps that MOE has already taken to support teachers' mental well-being during the pandemic, such as implementing “surgical brakes” — rest days to help teachers cope when there is a spike in Covid-19 cases that results in higher workloads.
An example of this is the extra day of school holiday on Oct 22 after the Primary School Leaving Examination marking exercise.
Other moves include MOE’s provision of free counselling services for educators, on top of the in-house or external counselling services in the autonomous universities and a government counselling hotline for polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education staff members.
MOE also conducts dipstick polls, school visits by senior management, and engagement surveys to gauge teachers’ sentiments and well-being, Mr Chan said.
The number of staff members seeking counselling services is about 80 a year since 2020, which is a significant increase from around 50 in the years before the pandemic, he added.
Responding to another supplementary question by Ms Carrie Tan, MP for Nee Soon GRC, Mr Chan said that MOE does not actively track the numbers in order not to create the impression that staff members who seek help for their problems would make them a statistic.
He then urged both educators and students who need help with their mental well-being to come forward, and he stressed the need to not look at mental health as a “black and white” issue.
There is a need for people to think about mental health as a fitness level, Mr Chan said.
“Today, I might not be able to cope with some things, but tomorrow, with a bit of training, stretching, I might be able to cope a bit more," he added.
"That's how we grow as individuals and if we move away from the binary concept of mental health, I think it will encourage people to come forward.”