By Gabriel Lihan
KUCHING: There is an ongoing trend among teachers opting for early retirement.
In the past few years, 10,000 teachers have submitted their applications to retire early.
“Perhaps they don’t find teaching a rewarding and interesting profession anymore,” said Sarawak Teachers Union (STU) president Adam Prakash Abdullah.
On the reasons given by teachers for retiring early, he spoke of a few such as too much clerical work, abrupt change of policies, demand on teachers to go beyond teaching, frustration due to insufficient infrastructural facilities and amenities, poor or no internet connection, and unrealistic demands from parents.
Regarding “too much clerical work”, for example, he pointed out that the problems have prevented teachers from concentrating on their core business of teaching.
He argued that teachers should have enough time to plan their lessons, and prepare or make teaching aids to carry out their jobs effectively and efficiently.
“STU, therefore, urges the Ministry of Education to stop forcing too much clerical jobs on teachers. I know of teachers who spent hours until the wee hours working their hearts out to key in data requested by education officers at the district, departmental and ministerial levels.”
Many complaints were received by STU, he said, especially concerning home-based teaching and learning during the pandemic when teachers were required to key in data repeatedly.
A teacher, Duane Tersan, 47, said based on his observations the situation was alarming but can be mitigated to some extent if retired teachers get replaced quickly with fresh graduates or trainee teachers.
“The situation is as bad as it can be in Sarawak where many new teachers are required to replace those retiring,” he said.
Regarding early retirement, he thought that poor health was a possible reason for it. The strange twist to it, though, is why the increasing number? Does it mean that more and more teachers are becoming sick? If so, why?
Then there is the big T — technology — which is dreaded by those who are unable to change with the times or unable to learn new things.
“Veteran teachers can’t cope with too many technological changes in the education system, especially with online systems and teaching,” said Duane.
An early retiree, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed that the system prioritises non-teaching work over the very thing which teachers love most — teaching and educating their students.
“Teachers feel impotent because they are unable to question the system or propose ideas that might help it work better,” Duane continued.
“It is always the unchallenged top-to-bottom approach of doing things. Different or dissenting opinions are not welcomed. People at the top think they know everything.”
“Their current school heads are more grade-oriented than those who went before them when they first started teaching. So much emphasis is placed on achieving good results at the expense of the well-being of teachers.”
A woman teacher, who early retired and who wished to remain anonymous, said that most teachers enjoyed teaching the subjects of their specialisation. But once they’re asked to teach other subjects they always faced various problems.
“The teaching and learning process should be funded by the government, and yet I have seen teachers spending their own money on teaching-learning materials, stationery and photo-copying.
“There is always work overload not directly related to teaching and learning. Such types of work are typically brought from outside the teaching profession.
“Hence teachers waste time doing work which is not their core jobs. This had led to frustration, burnout, stress and professional fatigue,” she said.
She also believes that occupational stress and teacher burnout prompting early retirement can also be attributed to students consistently misbehaving in class.
When so many teachers opting for early retirement despite still being able to work, it seems to indicate that there are things wrong with the education system and the Education Ministry.
Therefore, the government has been urged to intervene in the matter to prevent it from becoming a crisis.