16 Sep Schools lack the manpower, expertise
IT WAS a music lesson at Teck Whye Secondary School (TWSS).
The students were tapping away at their iPad 2s, learning how to compose a tune – under the guidance of an externally hired instructor.
TWSS vice-principal Yong Kek Shoong said: “The last music teacher quit two years ago, and we have yet to get a trained one since then.”
Although the subject is non-examinable, the school insists on giving its students new and interesting music lessons.
And since none of its teachers are equipped to do so, it engaged an external vendor, Intune Music School, which also provides the iPad 2s needed for the lessons.
This term, Intune runs an eight-week programme on music composition for the Secondary 2 students.
The programme costs $16,000. The school got about $10,000 worth of funding from its cluster and paid for part of the programme with the school fund. The students pay the rest at only $20 each through their Edusave account.
The New Paper spoke to five principals and some teachers, who all said their schools have also turned to hiring from without – for enrichment programmes and co-curricular activities (CCA), as well as for aesthetic subjects such as music, art and physical education (PE).
The Ministry of Education (MOE) had said schools may engage coaches specialised in a particular sport, art or music genre for CCAs.
Responding to The New Paper’s queries on whether there was a lack of local manpower for the teaching of aesthetic subjects in schools, the MOE spokesman said there are currently 2,650 PE, music and art teachers.
MOE aims to grow the pool to about 4,500 by 2020.
This issue came to light after TNP reported last Wednesday that a PE coach was sacked for physically abusing a Primary 2 pupil during class.
Our checks revealed that engaging external service providers was a common practice.
But when the unfortunate incident was reported, parents were understandably concerned.
A parent whose child goes to that school, a businessman in his 40s who wanted to be known only as Mr Goh, said: “How are these coaches hired? Are they screened properly by the school before coming in?”
Fellow parent C. Tan, a trader in his 40s, added: “Are they necessary? Can’t our teachers do the job?”
The principal of that school told TNP that he “did not have enough teachers” for PE and music, and he had to hire external instructors.
Before hiring the external instructors, schools usually invite these vendors to tender through the government procurement website GeBiz.
The school then explains through GeBiz why it picks a particular vendor and rejects the rest.
St Joseph’s Institution Junior principal Sara De Souza said: “Most schools would need to engage external vendors, but it’s good exposure for the students and external coaches give the teachers additional support.”
A teacher at a top primary school here, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ang, said: “For things like Chinese painting and calligraphy, it’s a specialised skill that not all our teaches have. For music, we engaged coaches from China as we wanted our pupils to learn the technical music terms in Mandarin.”
Mrs De Souza said she she hires only coaches with “high credibility”, and Mr Ang said his school checks with other schools for feedback on a particular vendor’s services before hiring. A vendor told TNP that he has his own checklist when supplying trainers to schools.
The MOE spokesman said schools must appoint teachers-in-charge who are responsible for the training and well-being of the pupils.
At TWSS, the music lessons run by Intune Music School were supervised by 23-year-old contract teacher Guo Zhimin. The programme was as new to her as to the students, but she said she “picked it up” during class time.
“I’m enjoying it. It’s a new experience,” she added.
External coaches are carefully picked
THE New Paper spoke to Mr Delane Lim, 26, CEO of Agape Group Holdings, which provides schools with external trainers.
He said out-sourcing is very common, as it helps to “lighten teachers’ load”.
Since he started his company in 2005, it has been working with more than 20 schools every year, providing trainers for camps and other programmes.
Mr Lim interviews potential employees, paying attention to the physical appearance and social habits.
“We generally do not hire trainers who smoke or who have tattoos, especially since they are going to be training young people,” he said.
“First impressions count and we need them to portray a good image.”
Mr Lim then looks at their qualifications to ensure that they are subject matter experts.
But a potential trainer might not have the heart for the job despite his qualifications.
So Mr Lim personally observes the trainer over twoto three sessions – to see how the potential employee handles different types of students.
But even with these checks in place, Mr Lim admitted that it is impossible to be 100 per cent sure – he had fired two employees for improper behaviour.
Good full-time trainers are scarce, he added.
As an external vendor, engaging the students is key for Intune Music School co-director Aaron Lim, 33.
Last Friday, The New Paper watched him conduct the music lesson for Secondary 2 students at Teck Whye Secondary together with another trainer.
Mr Lim said his company has been working with schools for the past three years, but this is the first time TWSS is engaging it for this particular course.
He said: “I’ve to teach, and at the same time make things fun, interactive and simple for the students so that they can absorb what is taught and build up their musical sense.”
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