Parents should not call up teachers at midnight asking about trivial matters: Chan Chun Sing

Chan noted that most parents were supportive, but a small minority placed an outsized demand on teachers.

Matthias Ang | November 02, 2021, 06:06 PM

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Education Minister Chan Chun Sing has called for families to not abuse the trust and access that teachers grant to a student through providing their handphone number.

Speaking in Parliament on Nov. 2, Chan said:

"It is one thing for a child to call up the teacher at midnight to say that he’s in trouble. It is another thing for the parent to call up the teacher at midnight to ask whether tomorrow the child has spelling, and should wear a red or blue t-shirt.

If the child doesn't remember, so be it. It's part of his learning experience. We as parents don't need to overly protect our child or children, and deprive them of the learning experience."

Chan said the expectations of parents and society may get "heightened" and are projected onto teachers.

He therefore wishes to strengthen the partnership between schools and parents support groups, not so much for the groups to support the schools, but to help one another to set the correct expectations, and have a strong partnership between parents and teachers in bringing up the children.

Many teachers go the extra mile for their students

Chan was responding to questions about the mental health of teachers and the toll of the stress that they faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In noting that many teachers cared "a lot" for their students, and that it was important for the public to help teachers in the form of a partnership, he said:

"Our teachers care a lot. Many of our teachers even give their handphone number to their students. Just in case their students get into trouble outside the school hours.

And I have heard many stories of our students sometimes calling the teachers in the middle of the night because they got kicked out of home, because of family issues and our teachers respond.

This is the extent to which our teachers go to take care of our students beyond the curriculum time."

Earlier, the minister also pointed out that school leaders had been providing guidance on avoiding parent-staff communication after operating school operating hours, except for urgent matters such as those involving the safety and well-being of students.

"This minimises the blurring of lines between work and personal time," he added.

Small minority of parents who place a huge demand on our teachers

Chan further noted that there were some parents who preferred physical schooling while there were others who preferred who preferred home-based learning (HBL).

However, "there will not be a situation where we can meet the needs of everyone," he added. It is therefore important to not burden teachers with excessive demands in cases where the families do not get what they want.

"That, I think, will go a long way in helping our teachers cope as well," he said.

Chan then highlighted a common feedback that he had heard from teachers: while most parents are very supportive, there is a small minority that places a "very huge demand" on them.

Chan said that this was "perhaps unfair" for the teachers if they are unable to spend their time to take care of all the students because of these demands.

"So we really want to work together with the parents. We also want to work together with society, including the unions, so that we can better support our teachers in an all-rounded way," he added.

MOE and education institutions are also addressing concerns raised over the workload face by teachers

In his initial answer, Chan highlighted that measures had been put in place by the ministry, as well as various Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to address concerns raised by teaching staff over their workloads.

At the systemic level, MOE has reprioritised initiatives and reduced the number of schools involved in HQ work and pilots, he said.

Schools have also been given greater flexibility in pacing the implementation of selected initiatives, including deferring implementation if it helps to spread out the work of staff.

As an example, Chan said that both secondary schools and junior colleges had been given the option to defer blended learning to 2022, instead of the third term of 2021, as originally planned.

At the school level, Chan said that the ministry was cognisant of differences in ground practices.

The ministry has therefore called on school leaders to reprioritise school programmes, establish clear expectations on the availability of teachers and work hours, and encourage supervisors to check in with their officers regularly.

Contact tracing processes and ring-fencing policies have also been "significantly simplified" to reduce the workload of teachers related to Covid-19.

With regard to IHLs, Chan said that they have set clearer expectations of staff not needing to reply to work emails after office hours, unless it is an emergency.

MOE is also providing counselling services

Chan also highlighted that the ministry is providing free counselling services.

In addition, MOE, polytechnic and ITE staff who are public officers can access the whole-of-government counselling hotline, while staff in the autonomous universities have access to either in-house or external counselling services, he said.

Chan noted that prior to Covid-19, around 50 staff from schools sought support from MOE's in-house counselling on an annual basis. This number has since increased to about 80 since 2020.

A similar increase has also been seen among staff from IHL, he added.

A new initiative has also been launched as of Sep. 2021, with schools nominating wellness ambassadors for staff to receive training on how to provide basic peer support and encourage their peers to seek help.

Here, Chan said:

"We recognise (the) exceptional demands that Covid-19 has placed on our staff and have put in additional efforts to promote a positive and supportive work environment for staff well-being across schools and IHLs, such as organising workshops covering stress management and self-care."

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Top photo via Chan CHun Sing Facebook