Today, (20/06/21) the Minister of Education had a special press briefing, announcing that there was a teacher shortage in Malaysia. The Minister mentioned there is a shortage of teachers in Malaysia for both primary and secondary schools for certain skillsets. Among them – English, BM and IT. He also announced that the JPA has given the green light to take in 18,702 teachers, and the advertisement for this recruitment drive will be advertised on the 7th July 2021. Placement of these new recruits will begin in October 2021. It is hoped that this initiative will solve the problem of teacher shortage in schools.
Teacher Shortage in Malaysia – a worrying recurring trend
Teacher shortage in Malaysia has been quite apparent of late. My mom says she has hardly seen any young teachers in the past year. She said it’s as if there has been a freeze on hiring. According to her, some teachers who left earlier in the year in her school have not even been replaced. It is the same in many schools. In the end, schools have to resort to getting the PIBG to pay for temporary teachers to fill in those voids.
In 2019, this was also an issue, of which the Education Ministry allocated RM48 million to fix the teacher shortage in Malaysia (The Star, 31 October 2019). So, what we should wonder about is this one-off recruitment drive. How did the planners in the MOE allow this situation to happen? Teachers retire all the time. There are unforeseen circumstances as well. Whatever the reasons for teachers leaving the profession, the planners should have foreseen the vacuum that will happen. There is a need for a long-term policy change to make sure that there is sufficient quantity and ensuring quality, of teachers in the education system.
Anecdotally too, it seems like more teachers opting to retire ealier after the onset of pandemic. There are more than 400,000 teachers in Malaysia, in primary and secondary schools. The MOE have gone digital for some years now and would definitely have the data of the expected retirement dates of the teachers. Even for those who put in their papers for early retirements, the process takes up to a year. Hence, the data is always available.
Shortages for only Certain Subjects
As for the type of shortage which points to only certain subjects, I think it also tells us a few things. There is a shortage of English teachers in both primary and secondary schools. Primary schools are also facing a shortage of IT teachers too. In secondary school, there is also shortage for BM teachers. Shortage of English language teachers is a perennial problem. We have come to a point where we have many teachers who don’t have good mastery. A CPT assessment done by teachers some years back highlighted this quality issue very clearly.
Promotion for English teachers seem harder to come by. We rarely find Principals from among the English teachers. So, I think it would be expected that many of those who are competent will leave for the private sector. Also, those who can write can always find other jobs to do.
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Another issue is the workload for language teachers. A decade ago, the extra workload is acknowledged and scheduling of classes, other workloads are always taken into consideration when planning for the school programmes for the year. These days, none of those things matter. Every teacher is expected to shoulder the same workload out of those teaching duties. Hence, perhaps why there is a shortage of BM teachers too. Could it be more BM teachers are taking optional retirement too? And I think many of those teachers who opted out are those with a sense of accountability. These are usually your better teachers.
It is common knowledge that language teachers need time to grade their students work. Marking an essay takes time and you can’t be expecting this teacher to be able to do that and have to see to other school duties as well. One gets burnt out very quickly. One will comprise quality in order to get the school head out of his radar. All those do not augur well if we aspire to produce world class education because this shortage is loss for our kids.
The Long Term Bad Effect of Shortages of Teachers in Malaysia
Having a shortage of language teachers is bad for the country. Language teachers form the bastion of education in the sense they teach literacy. As the world moves into a fast changing world, literacy has become an important asset. One is required to learn all the time. Lifelong learning is very difficult wihout literacy. There is only so much one can learn from a YouTube video, cos embedded in the video is still language literacy.
So the shortage that the Minister of Education promised to address in his most recent press briefing might actually be an indication that something is not going very well in our education system too.