Transforming the teaching services – lab experience

Last week  I wrote about being invited to participate in one of the most important groundwork for improving the teaching services in this country.  It was a humbling experience in a sense that there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas to improve the profession, some are really out of this world and some are really whacky. But that is what a lab is all about. You throw ideas into the ring and be prepared to get them thrashed. Whatever it is the ground rules were already set and I am in no position to reveal the details of  what were discussed in the lab.

They were four labs, each was headed by a deputy director general or at least a director. They were reps from the Public Service Department in each lab to steer the discussion into the right path as well as providing the crucial information regarding salaries, service  schemes, finance, data and organisation. It was really a gaggle of MoE’s think tank so to speak. Broadly we were instructed to examine and disect the career paths of teachers and propose improvements that will take the teaching profession into new heights by 2020 when Malaysia is set to be a high income nation.

Personally,  I thought we are a few years late. This should have been done many years ago. But then, it is better late than never. The teaching profession in this country is a complex affair riddled with potholes and patch ups.  Just like other public service schemes, the teaching service is mainly divided into two: the graduates and the non graduates. All teachers are considered “ikhtisas” (professional) irrespective of whether they are graduates or not  since they must have gone through the teaching professional training – be it a teaching certificate, diploma in education, post degree certificate or bachelor in education. And they are qualified to be called “cikgu” if they had such qualification. They need not be graduates unlike doctors, lawyers or engineers. Unfortunately there is no professional body to regulate the professional aspect of the teaching profession like the MMA for the medical professions or the Bar Council or the MIA for the architects or IEE for the engineers. As long as one had passed the above mentioned teaching qualification courses, one is considered a qualified teacher. It lasts a lifetime. No renewal required. Expiry date is non existent. No geographical boundaries either (in this country though). No licensing or registration needed. One cannot be kicked out or deregistered if one violates the teaching professional ethics or codes of conduct. In an sense it is very liberal. The teaching services is the country’s largest in term of population, well into 450k members. Almost a third of the civil servants.

Trying to improve the service of the 450K members with various entry points is no easy task. They are a lot of potholes, anomalies, irregularities and exceptions to be ironed out. The main contention is how are we going to demarcate the teaching learning tasks with the administrative and management tasks. Is a headteacher an administrator or a teacher or both? What are the percentage of teaching roles as compared to the management roles? Trying to carve out a service scheme base along teaching and management demarcation is quite absurd.

What we are trying to do in the lab is to flesh out the details of the framework set forth by the Prime Minister in his Teachers Day speech where he posited that teachers can go up the service scale according to their expertise – Guru Biasa, Guru Kanan, Guru Wibawa and Pendeta Guru – without any restriction of filling up a vacant post. The challenge is not only to come up with a credible criteria to describe each category of teacher but also to come up with criteria that is also applicable for teachers  who are not in schools but in various education departments in the country.  I believe the lab, despite the dearth of time and facilities, managed to formulate some useful instruments to be tabled and further deliberation by the higher echelons of the ministry. We gave our blood, sweat and tears in the lab – arguing, gesticulating, shouting, articulating and agreeing to disagree daily till late nights or late afternoons. I hope it is worth it. Whatever it is the final decisions is taken out of our hands. That is the irony of it all – our future decided by others.

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