From ‘Make teachers take national exams’, 28 feb 2015, ST Forum
(Maria Loh Mun Foong): THE trend of private tutors sitting national exams to better gauge their mastery of the subjects they teach appears to be increasing (“Maths tutor sits exams to understand students better”, Wednesday).
Maths tutor Ong Ai Ling said that though she aced both maths papers she sat, “it was not an easy task”. I also know of a General Paper tutor who has sat the paper for at least the past few years, and concedes the difficulties of acing it.
I did not come across any school teachers who sat the national exams during my teaching stint in a secondary school. Perhaps, the Ministry of Education could consider making teachers who teach graduating classes sit the national exams. This may lead to improved outcomes for our educational system.
It would help ensure that teachers, many of whom would have sat their exams many years ago, are adequately equipped to prepare students for the recent changes in the exam format (“Memorising answers won’t score you the As”, Wednesday).
If teachers can prove that they can ace the same exams their students are sitting, it may help instil greater confidence in the teachers’ efficacy in teaching the subject, which may result in fewer students relying on tuition. Teachers who get grades below a benchmark could be required to take corrective action.
Maths tutor Ong Ai Ling from ‘Winners Education‘ did in fact score A1s for both elementary and additional Maths as a working adult, but only after intensive preparation over a 2 month period involving the mugging of past years’ papers. No mean feat of course, considering that I have trouble with even Primary school Maths. Even if I could take a sabbatical to re-take my O Levels again, I doubt I could beat a Sec 4 student, who has been moulded by the system to conquer exam questions based on technique, application and mostly rote memorisation. I doubt I could even beat a Sec 1 student forced to do O Level Maths, or make it past the second round of ‘Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader’?
Having no teaching experience myself, I’m not sure how the competency of teachers in their specialty subject are evaluated in schools, or how they would keep up with their continual education given all the administrative duties they’re burdened with, like dealing with complaining parents, or cutting pupils’ hair. In my time, we assumed our teachers were experts in the field, and though we may occasionally make them uneasy with questions out of the syllabus, we never in our wildest dreams imagined going to battle with them in the examination hall. It’s OK if you’re a chess prodigy beating your mentor in international competition, or Jackie Chan giving his kungfu drunken master the thrashing of his lifetime, but if you’re a better-than-average student scoring higher than your TEACHER in a national exam, he or she may be spending more time directing traffic at parent-teacher functions the following semester, as part of what the writer suggested as ‘corrective action’.
When a high school in Jiangsu Province China asked teachers above the age of 40 to sit exams together with students, most protested by submitting blank sheets of paper and walked away, some afraid that their results may get leaked and compared against students’ scores. The management called it ‘business training’ to test the proficiency of its staff, while teachers viewed it as an insult and humiliation, knowing full well that teaching and scoring exams are two different things altogether. As a teacher, I would expect you to at least know the basic structure of the paper and an idea of how to answer them, not so much how many marks you’ll get given the circumstances (I spend my whole life studying, you are married with kids; I’m young and nimble, you’re old and foggy). If you want to push for teachers sitting for actual exams, shouldn’t the HODs, principals and Minister of State for Education do it as well, so that they know exactly what we underlings are going through? Like making Lui Tuck Yew stand on the MRT during peak hours.
Maybe we don’t need to make teachers compete against students in an exam ‘live’, which would put many off the profession, or tempt some to even cheat given that their career is at stake, but rather against each other, not only as a competency test and friendly competition but so that they can empathise with what students today have to go through. Ultimately the goal here is to fix the system such that parents no longer see the need to subject their kids to excessive tuition. Having smart teachers who score distinctions well into their 40s alone isn’t enough. Just because I still have a mastery of solving cubic equations with synthetic division doesn’t necessarily make me a great teacher.
What I would like to see, however, is a NIE-trained teacher going HEAD to HEAD with a private tutor, given that the private tuition-sphere has its share of unapproved, shady self-professed educators with bogus qualifications. It doesn’t matter if you graduated from the GEP program, aced all your O and A Level subjects, or were a Maths Olympiad champion in the past. If you take a paper today and fail, you can kiss your tuition business goodbye. Perhaps MOE should take the writer’s suggestion and apply it in their assessment and approval of tuition agencies instead.