Teachers welcome ‘long overdue’ pay increase but say work-life balance still a concern
The Education Ministry announced on Tuesday that education officers, allied educators and kindergarten educators will receive a salary increase of up to 10% from Oct 1.
SINGAPORE: Teachers have welcomed the salary increase announced by the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Tuesday (Aug 16), with some saying that the pay raise is long overdue.
Others said it may go some way towards keeping teachers in the profession, although those who spoke to CNA noted that work-life balance is still an issue.
In announcing the salary increase of 5 to 10 per cent from Oct 1, the Education Ministry said that the move is to ensure that overall pay packages remain competitive so that it can continue to attract and retain good educators.
About 35,000 education officers, 1,600 allied educators and 800 MOE kindergarten educators will benefit from the pay increase.
Salaries for teachers and allied educators like counsellors and student welfare officers were last reviewed in 2015.
Thomas (not his real name), an MOE officer who used to teach in a primary school, said he was happy to hear about the pay raise, although it may not keep pace with inflation.
“I think generally, most people are very happy that we got a pay raise, I think I’m also quite grateful for that,” he told CNA.
"Let’s say I get the maximum of 10 per cent (pay increment), it only boosts me up to the year 2022, after accounting for inflation from 2015 to 2022. Come 2023, our pay will still be … not on top of these current inflation trends," Thomas said.
“In that sense, while it’s competitive, it doesn’t stay relevant to prevailing economic trends.”
The names of teachers interviewed for this story have been changed as they are not authorised to speak to the media.
Another teacher Roy told CNA that he felt a sense of “oh, finally" when he heard about the pay increase.
The junior college teacher, who has been teaching for about five years, said that he previously thought a lot about resigning as the disparity between the pay in the private sector and the Education Ministry was “getting really large”, even though the work hours and responsibilities as an MOE teacher were higher.
The salary increase made his decision to remain as an MOE teacher “a lot easier”, he added.
WORKLOAD, LONG HOURS STILL AN ISSUE, SAY TEACHERS
Observing that the attrition rate for teachers has been on the rise in recent years, those who spoke to CNA said the measures announced by MOE may help to alleviate the issue, but that there are other factors in play.
“It will definitely help to retain the people, but maybe the bigger factor is that teachers are just reluctant to make a big change in their lives and change up their jobs,” Thomas said, adding that many educators hesitate to quit because their skills are not always applicable in other sectors.
“A competitive yearly wage increment would help. Right now we’re getting 1 per cent of wage increment per year … That’s not going to bring you far,” he added.
When asked if the pay raise addressed the issues he faces as a teacher, Roy, whose last salary increase was in April, said that the main issues still remain - having heavy workloads and long hours.
“We are understaffed for what we need to do, and it is still a very heavy emotional burden that you can’t just leave in school and come home without,” he said.
He observed that work-life balance is a common push factor for colleagues who had left. “They realised it was too much to continue with long term. And I guess, it doesn’t help that you can get a better salary with better work-life balance if you went private or into tuition," he added.
Kelly, who used to teach in a secondary school but left recently, said the salary increase is "long overdue".
“We've been talking about this for quite a while. I would say it still really depends on the individual teacher as to whether or not this will make an impact on the retention of teachers,” she added.
Most teachers find their pay quite comparable to the rest of the civil service, or even a little higher, said Kelly.
“But at least in my experience, the reason why a lot of teachers are leaving, it's not really the pay, but it's more the volume of work that is expected for that salary. To me, that still remains the problem,” she added.
“So it may be effective in the short term, but I think eventually if nothing changes about the work-life balance and the expectations on teachers, teachers are still going to leave if they’re burnt out.”
The four public sector teachers' unions welcomed MOE's announcement to increase the salaries of teachers and allied educators, said their representatives.
This is a recognition of the work that teachers put in and is in line with what the Public Service Division had announced earlier for public servants, Singapore Teachers' Union (STU) general secretary Mike Thiruman told CNA.
“Constantly reviewing salaries is important because it keeps the teaching profession in step with the rest of the market,” he said.
The Education Ministry also announced on Tuesday that it will enhance the CONNECT plan - a 30-year retention scheme for teachers.
Currently, a flat rate quantum ranging from S$3,200 to S$8,320 is set aside for education officers each year, depending on their length of service. Payouts are given every three to five years, comprising a proportion of the money accumulated.
From 2023, the CONNECT Plan will be enhanced by about 20 per cent overall. "The annual deposit quantum and payout ratio will be raised to better support officers in the earlier years of their career," said MOE.
The ministry will also create a new general education officer (GEO) 5A substantive grade, to better recognise the contributions of good-performing teachers who do not hold a key personnel appointment such as Subject Head or Senior Teacher.
The GEO5A grade is a recognition of the contributions from senior classroom teachers, said the representatives of the four unions, adding that they are glad MOE took their feedback on ensuring teachers who have reached their salary ceilings continue to be appreciated and rewarded.
"The enhanced CONNECT Plan is also another move in the right direction to retain teachers as they continue building on their teaching expertise because their experience matters and must be valued," said the unions’ representatives in a statement on Tuesday.
However, Mr Thiruman said there is a need to better support teachers.
Not only are teachers’ workloads increasing, but their work is becoming increasingly complex, he noted.
“How do we then reward the teachers for the complexity of the work, and also the amount of work that they are doing? Just (during) the COVID-19 situation, there was an increase of three times the workload.
“We cannot leave it up to five, 10 years before we review (it). So with the changes that are happening in the system, in society, I think (a) three- to five-year kind of timeframe will be pretty good in terms of salary adjustment,” said Mr Thiruman.
Pay aside, more can be done to support teachers in other aspects, such as their work-life balance and mental health, Mr Thiruman pointed out.
“More could be done at the ground level because that's the feedback we're getting. The stress levels in the school, because of the complexity of the teaching profession, more should be looked at in terms of providing support for teachers to facilitate a greater harmony (in their) work life,” he said.
In Kelly's case, she said she left teaching because of the workload, as she found it increasingly difficult to “switch off” from work.
For example, her students could reach her via WhatsApp and would often ask for pastoral care or academic help outside of work hours, especially during exam periods. She stressed that not every school or teacher would have this practice of giving out phone numbers to students.
“Even if you say you want a separation between office hours and your personal life, if it was your Secondary 4 students, it’s very hard to say no to them when they’re asking you questions,” she added.
“I think everyone's very happy about (the salary increase). The question now is, is it going to be a situation where they stay for a few more years to hit their next CONNECT plan payout and then look at their options, or whether there’s actually going to be a long-term improvement on the attrition rate.”
Additional reporting by Lisha Ann Rodney.