Sunday, June 17, 2012
POSITIVE TRAITS: The quality of teachers in schools has been a longstanding issue. The Education Ministry’s plan to ensure all teachers are graduates by 2020 has sparked yet another debate on whether graduates necessarily make better teachers. Chandra Devi Renganayar finds out from retired teachers
ONE need not be a graduate to be a good teacher, says William Doraisamy, a retired school principal with more than 33 years’ teaching experience.
A paper qualification shows a person is knowledgeable in an area of study but that does not necessarily mean that he or she will be in a better position to teach.
“A paper qualification will not ensure a teacher’s competency and effectiveness in the classroom. Throughout my service as a teacher and headmaster, I have seen non-graduate teachers who did a better job at teaching and guiding children. They trained students to excel in academics as well as sports. These teachers contributed to the rise of some of Malaysia’s great names in sports.
“They were willing to spend their time and money to help students develop their talent. It also helped that parents then allowed teachers to take charge of their children and encourage them in both sports and studies.”
Doraisamy, who joined the teaching profession in 1965 after completing a two-year training programme at the Malayan Teachers College in Penang at the age of 22, said many who became teachers at that time had a passion for teaching and loved children.
To become a teacher in an English-medium school in the 1950s and 1960s, candidates were required to pass the Senior Cambridge (Form Five) examination. Those with a Senior Cambridge qualification were also able to pursue a teaching course at the Kirkby Teachers’ College in England.
For the Malay and Tamil-medium schools, the requirement was a pass in Standard Six. There were also those who joined after completing the Lower Certificate of Examination (Form Three) and Malaysian Certificate of Examination (Form Five).
“Teaching is a labour of love. You must love teaching as well as children, otherwise you cannot be an effective teacher. Basically, quality is affected when a person joins the profession without passion. You do more harm than good.
“These days, many look at teaching as a last resort job option. But having said that, I would like to also stress that it is wrong to say that all teachers during my time were good and all teachers now are not dedicated. We had our share of bad apples,” he said.
It also helped that teachers were a well-read lot in those days, said Doraisamy. As most teachers were educated in English, they had access to many reading materials.
In the 1960s, Doraisamy said some teachers were trained on the job via the Regional Training Centres (RTCs). Selected candidates began teaching in schools for a few hours daily and attended training at the RTCs during weekends and holidays.
“For three years, they were learning to teach while teaching. This group made good teachers as when they were absorbed as permanent staff, they were well prepared to teach. Today, pre-service teachers don’t have much practical training.
“Perhaps, we should look at reintroducing this model of training,” said Doraisamy.
Another aspect that should be considered was the placing of highly qualified and dedicated teachers in primary schools.
“We need to focus on the formative years of a child. Highly qualified and well-trained teachers in preschools and primary schools will be able to set a good grounding for these children.
“This will definitely help prevent future issues of student illiteracy and discipline problems,” he said.
Hanu Easau, 74, who retired in 1993, said changes in policy would not work if teachers did not have the right mindset.
In her 30 years’ of service, Hanu has seen many changes in the education landscape, some for the better.
However, she said, it was disheartening to see the quality of teachers deteriorating over the years.
“In the mid-1970s, we began to see teachers who were in the job for the sake of being employed. They were not dedicated to the profession, nor were they concerned about the students.
“They were so different from the earlier group of teachers who took teaching to their heart and bonded well with the children.
“The older generation of teachers not only influenced academic achievements but also played a pivotal role in character building,” said Hanu, a science graduate from India who also took up a teaching course at the St Christopher’s Teacher Training College in Madras (Chennai) in the late 1950s.
Today, she said, there were other problems affecting the performance of teachers.
“They are bogged down by administrative functions, so much so that they cannot effectively play their role as educators. We must understand that the classroom situation is different today. A teacher may have the passion for teaching but if burdened with administrative work, he or she may not be able to contribute effectively.”
Did a degree make her a better teacher?
“A graduate who becomes a teacher is better equipped with knowledge in their area of study. So, for me, it was easier to teach Science but I must say it was not enough to make me an effective teacher. That came with having a deep passion for teaching children,” said Hanu.
There are no short-cuts to becoming an effective teacher and not everyone is cut out to be a teacher, said Hamisah Hapipah, 70, who has 32 years’ of teaching experience.
Having a degree, she said, would definitely denote a certain standard. However, it will not ensure a better quality of teachers if the graduates don’t have positive traits.
It will be pointless, added Hamisah, if graduates with high grade points but without the inclination to teach were selected to undergo teacher training.
“Schools expect a lot more from teachers today and so do students and parents. Hence, graduates wanting to become teachers must not only have vast knowledge in their subject matter but must also be able to communicate well with their students,” said Hamisah, who was trained at the Day Training College in Jalan Kuantan, Kuala Lumpur, in the early 1960s.