“Challenges of a teacher”
By Sharul Fairouk Bin Khamis
After serving in the Police Force for seventeen years, I had decided to teach. I was
attracted to the stories that were shared by my wife who works at a school as an administration
assistant. Her captivating stories inspired me to work with children and I have always been fond
of interacting with children. One and a half years of teaching at a primary school had taught me
if anything that “while the work of a teacher is very exciting and inspiring, it can also be very
challenging.” (Heng 2014).
In this paper I shall discuss the work as a teacher with explicit references to character and
citizenship education, working with inequalities in education as well as forming and maintaining
partnerships in education with other stakeholders.
In my research, I found Ministry of Education (MOE) has initiated transformational
initiatives over the years. In 2004, Prime Minister Lee called teachers to “teach less” so that
students might “learn more”. In 2005, MOE clarified this philosophical statement to mean
transforming learning from quantity to quality, “more quality and less quantity” in education.
This is in line with the national vision of ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’. This policy
initiative, which began in 2004, is set to change the fundamental nature of education in
Singapore. The challenge for schools in my opinion is to go beyond the form of the initiative to
bring real, substantial and sustainable educational change through this movement.
What began as National Education (NE), Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) has
evolved over the years since its inception. From 1959 to 1978, the government had to provide
mass education in response to the pressing need for national cohesion and economic survival.
The year 1979 saw the streaming and curricular changes introduced to cater to different ability
groups while values education was highlighted to promote social cohesion through schooling.
Given the need to strengthen social cohesion, values inculcation has always had a significant role
in the Singapore curriculum. In 1979, MOE introduced a National Education programme to
strengthen understanding of Singapore’s historical experience and also loyalty to the state. NE
was introduced in schools to help our students develop an awareness and appreciation of their
national heritage and common destiny. NE also imbues in students a sense of community
responsibility. Within the academic areas of the curriculum, NE is incorporated into subjects
such as Social Studies, History and Geography. This is reinforced by the many non-academic
programmes and activities that students take part in. Our students commemorate events like
Total Defense Day, International Friendship Day, Racial harmony Day and national Day. They
also participate in activities such as Learning Journeys, which take them to key national
institutions. In the Community Involvement Programme (CIP), student participants undertake
projects to serve to the community. Through these activities, students learn about respect and coexistence with Singaporeans of different races and religions, and acquire a deeper understanding
and appreciation of the challenges, constraints and vulnerabilities facing Singapore today and in
The influx of new immigrants from countries such as People’s Republic of China (PRC)
and India do cause some resentment among Singaporeans over perceived job competition. In
addition, parents worry that these talented foreign pupils would add to the already stressful
competition in the education system. I can see that here, CCE undertakes the task of socializing
the local pupils with the children of these immigrants. However, I have not found any attempts to
quantify the success of CCE which is essentially intangible through the collection of hard data.
On a more practical note, it is not always easy to get teachers and pupils to strike a balance in
CCE as there is always the emphasis on examinations which tend to take a higher priority.
Racial differences in educational achievement, that some have tried to explain by genes
or culture, are better understood by rooting them in historical and current systems of race
inequality which, in turn, affect the socializing contexts of neighbourhoods, families, and
schools, as well as individual responses, and rewards. When social class and or racial differences
are large, enduring, and instutionalized, they are consequential for the generation and beyond and
they affect educational experiences and outcomes (Ballantine, Spade 2012). There are three
major dimensions of social differences namely class, gender and ethnicity. They present very
different educational profiles and diverse problems for the sociology of education. Although
each dimension can be considered separately, they are interactive. Each of us has a class
membership, a sex and an ethnic identity (Moore 2004).
As a teacher, there is a need to be aware of these socio economic differences as pupils
can be affected emotionally. For example, do not say “Write about your holidays” as one may
write “Europe” and another may write “East Coast Park”. Instead, the question can be better
tweaked with a better phrase such as “Write about what is the meaningful thing that you did
during the holidays.” The latter task of writing the meaningful thing that the pupil did during the
holidays is more sensitive and meaningful. The pupils would then be required to explore and
reflect on the topic given which is more impactful as compared to simply non reflective sharing
of the holiday experiences. The better thought through assignment would also avoid any pupils
feeling marginalized due to the potentially huge disparity of holiday destinations that the pupils
could have gone to with their families.
As a teacher, I do see that it is critical to maintain partnership in education with
stakeholders in Singapore especially parents who play a pivotal role in their children’s education.
Parents see education success as high-stakes issue that would set the future of their children. I
have seen parents who spare no efforts in ensuring that their children get the best that money can
buy which could be in the form of tuition classes, enrichment classes, assessment books etc. The
business for private tuition centres have blossomed over the years in meeting the increasing
demands of these parents. Citing figures from an online article, “… citing figures from 2008 that
showed that about 97 per cent of Singaporean students enrolled in tuition and enrichment classes
compared to only 49 and 30 per cent of primary and secondary school students who did so in
1992” (Siau 2013).
Indeed the demands and expectations of parents from teachers have escalated with the
greater involvement. Parents are more prone to ask for feedbacks. My experiences with parents
had been positive as I empathize and see the need for the engagement with the parents. I made it
a practice to give timely feedbacks and notices through not only memos and school diary but
with the messaging application as well, whatsapp, which proved to be popular among the
parents. They appreciated the regular feedbacks and both parties in the partnership understand
the common objectives and goals which are the well-being, learning and development of the
I am of the opinion that teachers and schools could better engage and strike a better
partnership with parents with better rapport building so as to gain trust. This takes time and effort
from both sides of the partnership. I had seen instances of lack of understanding and trust by the
parents through incidents such as the child who might have suffered a fall, or even not
performing academically to the parents’ expectations. Often, knee jerk reaction by the parents
would be to put the blame on the schools and teachers. The protective nature of the parents could
cause them to fear unnecessarily thus blinding them to see things objectively. Teachers on the
other hand, may fail to see that the one pupil in the classroom of forty pupils could be the only
dear precious child of a couple. I am one of the teachers with this oversight. Having to manage
the typically big class size in Singapore schools, as a teacher I would find myself to be teaching
to the median group usually. Pupils in my classrooms with the low or high ability could find the
lesson either confusing or disengaging depending on their respective abilities. I have learnt since
undergoing the diploma in education program to differentiate the lessons so as to cater to the
different needs of the pupils. I am also now more aware of the expectation of parents through the
invaluable “The Social Context of Teaching and Learning” course.
Schools need to take time to foster a relationship with the parents through activities that
need not be sanctioned by authorities (Tan, Ng 2005). For example, schools can organize
dialogues, workshops and even parties in order to build that bridge in the partnership.
Ballantine, J. H., & Spade, J. Z. (2012). Schools and society: A sociological approach to
education. Los Angeles: Sage/Pine Forge Press
Choy, W., & Tan, C. (2011). Education reform in Singapore: Critical perspectives.
Singapore: Prentice Hall
Mendler, A. N. (2012). When teaching gets tough: Smart ways to reclaim your game.
Alexandria, VA, U.S.A.: ASCD
Moore, R. (2004). Education and society: Issues and explanations in the sociology of
education. Cambridge: Polity
Siau, M. (2013, September 17). MPs call for closer look at private tuition industry. Retrieved
October 16, 2014, from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore
Tan, J., & Ng, P. T. (2005). Shaping Singapore's future: Thinking schools, learning nation.
Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall