Three routes into teaching, three ways to finance it
You can pay for these yourself, at about £15k a year for the Bachelors, or £10k a year for the other two routes, but I get the impression that this is route only takes a small proportion of the teacher trainees each year; it isn’t even mentioned in articles on Singaporean teacher training by the OECD or by other respected organisations. I shouldn’t think this route is especially competitive (wait till you see what comes next) although unfortunately the data on this isn’t in the public sphere.
A much better option for any teacher hopeful is to apply to the Ministry of Education (MOE), which calculates roughly how many teachers it is likely to need in the future, based on retirements and attrition, and employs a suitable number of trainees to be MOE teachers. If successful, an MOE trainee has their entire course paid for (whichever route they take), and on top of that they receive a monthly ‘salary’ while training – ranging from approximately £700-1000 for non-graduates and £1500-1650 for graduates (depending on their degree class). Super! That definitely beats a bursary that doesn’t cover your course fees.
But that is not all, oh no. An MOE funded course is not the most prestigious route into teaching in Singapore.
These are way better. The MOE offers about 300 scholarships a year to top students (identified after A-levels) and actually pays for their regular degrees, in addition to paying for their PGDE teacher training course. Some of these are at overseas universities, allowing them to study at some of the top universities in the world, without having to pay any tuition fees. These students, known as ‘scholars’ even once they are working in schools, are then earmarked as having great potential, and are given all sorts of additional opportunities, including secondments in the Ministry of Education itself.
In addition to the attractiveness of their teacher training packages, the Singaporean education system continues to offer good pay, career opportunities and exceptional professional development for teachers once they qualify, which I’ll tell you more about in my next blog.
Students do not get their courses paid for ‘for free’. Like the Army in the UK pays for some students’ degrees in exchange for a minimum amount of time serving in the Armed Forces, the MOE requires students on MOE funded programmes and scholarships to commit several years to teaching in MOE schools. For those on the PGDE and Diploma programmes, the bond is 3 years. For those on the BA/BSc (Education) programme or on a MOE scholarship at a local university, the bond is 4 years. And for any scholarship students that went overseas and had their degrees paid for, the pay-back time is 5 or 6 years. And if you break your bond, you are required to pay back the money the government has spent on your training pro-rata, depending on the number of years you have left.
Can we learn anything from this?
Teach First was set up to attract top graduates - who wouldn’t have otherwise taught – to teach in disadvantaged schools for two years, before going onto do other things. It makes sense for these schemes that the training is condensed and that they learn on the job, as they might leave after two years.
But if we want to move from being an averagely performing education system to being among the top performing, we need to raise our game. We need to attract dynamic, qualified people to the profession, but we also need to give as much time and attention to their initial training as Singapore, Finland, Canada, Japan etc., and ensure that they don’t leave the education system in their first few years. We need attractive schemes to run alongside Teach First, targeted at top graduates who would commit to the classroom and the initial training, given the right package.
Some ideas for governments/school chains to consider:
- Start a scheme targeted at school leavers which encourages them to do shortage subjects at university by paying for/subsidising their degrees in exchange for a five year commitment to teaching when they’ve finished.
- Rather than offering bursaries, run a selective, marketed teacher training programme in which participants get paid to do a teaching training (full time rather than on the job), in exchange for a three year commitment following training. This could include other opportunities such as non-teaching secondments within the school chain or education department.
Next blog: How the career structure in Singapore keeps teachers in the system