Grass envy vs rose-tinted glasses
Posted October 26, 2014on:
I am not sure which is worse: Viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses or envying the seemingly greener grass on your neighbour’s lawn.
That was my initial reaction to this tweet and the SMH article linked to it.
If you peer over the fence or put on coloured spectacles, there is a risk that you lose focus on what is important.
Context is important. You cannot simply transplant ideas from one context to another. I mentioned this in a tweet conversation with someone from the UK recently.
Something contextually important is that the Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore, hires teachers and sends them over to the National Institute of Education (NIE), Singapore, for initial teacher preparation. The supply meets the demand simply because MOE dictates both.
Attributing credit or blame to any other factor like PISA scores, teacher employment, or teacher surplus, in some other context is failing to make a valid comparison.
Basic facts are important. If a reporter cannot get basics right, you start to wonder if the rest of the article is flawed.
For example, SMH cites a Dean in NIE as “the head of Singapore’s teacher training institute”. I left NIE just a few months ago, but I am confident that the Director of NIE is still in charge. (I can hear the jokes and gentle ribbing taking place in certain halls and circles there if the SMH article makes its rounds there.)
Research is important. The reporter and editor might have been in a hurry to publish the article, but there is no excuse for bad research.
The initial figure of “as few as 20 per cent of (teacher) applicants” getting through the interview process might be correct. The starting salaries of our beginning teachers are indeed relatively high  . However, entry success and high starting salaries do not mean that we have the “best and brightest” to pick from.
Information on what percentage of top students from a graduating cohort enter teacher preparation can be hard to come by. But they can be found out by conversations with very-important-people or by trawling university sites that might share such data more openly.
As a professional courtesy, I am not going to share what I was provided by way of official statistics and conversations with people that matter. Suffice to say that Singapore’s teacher selection cutoff is no where near Korea’s, particularly among primary/elementary teachers.
The issues of teacher quality and placement should not just revolve around the numbers that administrators and policymakers like. Singapore does not recruit dimwits to be teachers, but we cannot (and do not) claim to lure our brightest either. We take in people with a passion for schooling and educating kids.
Passion is hard to put numbers to. But it is probably the single most important factor that keeps a teacher going no matter the salary or the teaching conditions.
So instead of getting a false impression after rubbernecking a neighbour or reading a tinted newspaper article, I suggest an unfiltered examination of context and a fine-toothed search for facts that actually matter.