Unrealistic to place cap on teachers' working hours: Chan Chun Sing

·3-min read
A teacher supervises students during an enrichment class at a Singapore secondary school. Picture taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.
A teacher supervises students during an enrichment class at a Singapore secondary school. Picture taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE — It is unrealistic to set a hard cap on the working hours of teachers in Singapore, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing during Parliament on Monday (7 March).

Chan was responding to a question by Dr Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Jalan Besar GRC Member of Parliament (MP) had asked whether a hard cap on teachers' working hours is viable, given that most of them go beyond their working hours to mark assignments and ensure their students' well-being.

The minister replied that he had posed the same question to the teachers during his weekly visits to the schools. From the feedback he received, he does not think that the teachers would stop responding to their students' needs just because they have reached their working-hours cap.

Chan gave an anecdote on how teachers from NorthLight School – whose students generally come from challenging family backgrounds and have difficulties handling the mainstream curriculum – respond to their students' needs past their normal working hours.

"Some of the students get into trouble with their families. Some got kicked out of their homes in the middle of the night," he said. "But guess what? So many teachers give out their personal handphone numbers to get their students to call them if they ever get into trouble outside the school. And we have teachers that responded in the middle of the night to pick up students and take care of them.

"That is something that speaks to the quality of our education workforce and the kind of people we have, which are things we can be proud of."

MOE doing all it can to alleviate teachers' workload

Chan assured the House that his ministry is doing what it can to alleviate the teachers' workload by not over-burdening them with unrealistic expectations, reviewing the curriculum, and applying technological assistance.

To strengthen peer support for teachers’ well-being, MOE introduced the Wellness Ambassador initiative in September 2021. Officers who are nominated will receive training to provide basic peer support to fellow colleagues who approach them.

Thus far, around 80 schools have nominated and trained wellness ambassadors within their schools. The initiative will continue to be rolled out progressively, with a target for every school to be equipped with at least two such ambassadors by the end of 2022.

Staff well-being committees in schools will also be supported with resources such as a toolkit with suggested activities and programmes as well as a feature on mental wellness from MOE. Teachers who may wish to speak to someone outside of MOE for professional counselling can also access the free whole-of-government support counselling hotline.

During the Parliament debate, Chan also announced that mid-year examinations will be removed for all primary and secondary levels by 2023, while secondary-school streaming will also be replaced by Full Subject-Based Banding by 2024.

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