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    Jun 26, 2014

    Top of the class, but so very tired

    SINGAPORE'S teachers are among the best-trained and hardest-working in the world, according to a global survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    But while their dedication has borne fruit - as showcased by the consistently outstanding academic performances of students here - these teachers told My Paper that they are also very tired.

    The Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis) conducted in 34 countries last year showed that teachers in Singapore rated far above their overseas counterparts with regard to how well prepared they are, even before becoming full-fledged teachers.

    Ninety-nine per cent of teachers have completed a teacher education programme, compared to the Talis average of 90 per cent.

    Singapore also has the highest proportion of seasoned teachers - at 39 per cent - serving as mentors to the less experienced ones, which is nearly thrice more than the 33 other countries that participated in the survey.

    Almost all teachers also continue to learn and train throughout their careers. The Ministry of Education completely covers the costs of this lifelong learning, and nine in 10 have benefited from this, compared to two-thirds in other nations.

    But teachers here also put in among the longest hours.

    The 3,109 lower-secondary teachers from 159 schools who took part in the survey said they worked a total of 48 hours a week on average, 10 hours more than the Talis average.

    This includes teaching time, marking students' work, as well as running co-curricular activities (CCAs) and counselling students.

    Teachers that My Paper spoke to said this was an underestimation of the time spent working.

    Mr Ang, who has been teaching for under a year, says he works 12 hours each work day and this includes taking home assignments to mark.

    "There are 101 things to do, including time-consuming administrative tasks such as attendance taking and running CCAs. I just feel overworked," said the 31-year-old.

    The survey suggested that teachers here spend 11 per cent of their time on administrative tasks, but teachers said this varied widely across schools.

    "Each school has its own system and even within the school, each teacher works differently, depending on their level of experience," said a teacher who wanted to be known as Sofia.

    An educator, Mr Tan, pointed out that the administrative tasks cannot be exactly classified as a non-teaching-related activity, as some of the work "does ultimately contribute to improving the student's academic progress".

    Some said the long hours mean that work-life balance is difficult to achieve. Others said this was a Singaporean norm, and teachers were not the only ones working so hard.

    "My friends who work in other civil service sectors have much less free time than me," said Mr Tan.

    What keeps them going?

    "I teach because I want my students to succeed. Every time a student thanks me for helping them, I feel that I have done my part and this makes all the hard work worth it," said teacher Fiona, who has toiled for 30 years.