Morale boost needed for teachers

'Teachers play a big role in shaping students. Mother gives birth, the guru gives life," said Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.

This quote cannot be more fitting as we celebrated Teachers' Day yesterday. Indeed, teachers are among those who leave lasting footprints in our lives. They teach us not only theories but also values, influence not only how we see the world but also how we can make a difference, and spark not only our interests but also our aspirations.

Teachers' Day was promulgated by the Teachers' Council of Thailand. In 1945, the Khuang Aphaiwong administration recognised the continuing challenge to attract and retain the best and brightest to a career in teaching. In response, the government enacted the Teachers Act of 1945, which formed the council with the key intention to promote teacher status and welfare.

In 1956, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram suggested to set aside a day in honour of the service and sacrifice of teachers. The council made good on the idea and on Jan 16, 1957, the Education Ministry announced the day a school holiday, marking the first Teachers' Day in Thailand.

Central to the celebration is the goal to boost teachers' morale. This is paramount because teachers who feel their work is valued bring out the best of their students, as supported by a 2016 study by Turkish researchers, lkay Abazao lu and Serdar Aztekin, who found that high teacher spirit contributed to statistically-significant increases in the students' average mathematics and science scores in Singapore, Japan, Finland and Turkey.

So how do these countries instill enthusiasm in their educators? Two common areas are competitive compensation and career advancement opportunities.

Take for example Singapore, which constantly ranks among the top in Pisa examinations. Professor Oon Seng Tan, former Director of the National Institute of Education (NIE), highlighted the city-state's rigorous design of financial and non-financial incentives for teachers in one of his reports.

Teachers in Singapore are awarded bonuses based on student development and academic results, among other competency goals. Such pay-for-performance could make up as much as 30% of their total pay. Moreover, teachers are entitled to retention bonus, which is offered every three to five years. This is key to their low attrition rate of only 3%. Other studies confirm financial incentives are effective at raising society's appreciation of the profession, which ultimately results in higher teacher motivation.

Singapore also recognises the importance of career progression. Teachers are offered career tracks in teaching, leadership (school administration) and specialist (curriculum and instructional design). This allows them to choose the role that matches their interests while still allowing them to advance their career and climb the salary ladder. Other professional developments include training, mentoring, and scholarships for postgraduate studies.

However, without meritocracy and a healthy work environment, these schemes will fail. To prevent the programmes from crumbling in the face of mistrust, Singapore ensures teachers are appraised transparently and fairly. The evaluation process is well-defined and comprehensive, encompassing supervisors' reviews, teachers' own self-assessments and recommendations by their respective school boards.

The evaluation is not punitive -- dismissals for poor performance are rare, -- but is meant to encourage teachers to improve. For these reasons Singapore can attract candidates from the top 30% of their cohorts to pursue teaching careers and be selective at the same time, as only one-in-eight applicants is accepted.

Sixty-four years on since the first Teachers' Day, Thailand still has a lot more to do to boost teacher morale, which continues to be shadowed by the profession's gloomy public image. While Thais have deep respect for their mentors, many are equally dubious as reflected in the Suan Dusit Poll's annual public confidence index on Thai teachers.

The 10-point scale reflects public impressions of teachers over the preceding year. The survey drew opinions from 8,123 respondents who answered 30 questions on teachers -- from instructional knowledge to teaching capacity, their ability to act as role models to their civic responsibility. In 2019, the score hit a three-year low at 6.25, extending a downward trend observed since 2016 when the score was 7.71. Thai teachers performed worst on passion for the profession and ethics, plummeting from 7.79 to 5.81 and from 7.8 to 5.82 points, respectively.

The declining public trust should not be taken lightly as it erodes instructors' confidence. To improve our education, we must invest in their morale. Altruism is one contributor, but so is good pay and professional milestones. Attractive compensation schemes which tie performance to pay and career prospects are key. By adding value and instilling respect in our teachers, we can also solve other problems, from staff shortage to disparities between rural and urban schools.

Meanwhile, teachers themselves need to protect the honour of their profession. Stories about teachers cheating on their entrance examinations and/or failing to show up during class hours while forcing students to pay anyway are rampant. There are many noble teachers around so it is sad to see their image has been ruined by some rotten apples. If we allow such misconducts to persist, good teachers will leave to the detriment of our country.

Teachers are the cornerstone of the education system and the future of our children rest upon them. We must commit to boosting teachers' morale and make teacher a high-status profession which attracts the cream of the crop.

Bundit Kertbundit was a reporter at the Thai Public Broadcasting Service and wrote articles for the Business Post.



Sources :

Bureau of Information and Communication Technology Office of the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education E-Mail :