Teachers' mental well-being

Published Date: 02 November 2021 06:00 PM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Patrick Tay Teck Guan, Pioneer SMC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) from 2011 to 2021, what is the annual number of cases of mental distress or psychiatric issues reported by teaching staff in (i) primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges (ii) institutes of technical education (iii) polytechnics and (iv) autonomous universities; and (b) in light of the next normal of living with COVID-19 and home-based learning in 2020/2021 and beyond, what is the Ministry doing to alleviate the stress encountered by teaching staff.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Dr Wan Rizal, Jalan Besar GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether there has been an increase in a teacher's workload and blurring of lines between work and personal time; (b) whether steps have been taken to measure the mental health index of our teachers; and (c) whether there are efforts to ensure that our teachers are not overwhelmed and suffer from burnout.

Response

1. Our teaching staff have shouldered a heavy responsibility to ensure that our students can continue learning safely during this COVID-19 pandemic. Workload for teaching staff has increased as they are responsible for ensuring that students are educated about and comply with the Safe Management Measures. Each time a confirmed case is notified, staff need to follow-up on contact tracing and communications. When Home-Based Learning (HBL) was declared, teaching staff also need to make the necessary arrangements, with additional support for students who may not adjust as well to HBL. All these efforts are necessary to allow teaching and learning to continue, despite the pandemic.

2. To keep track of staff sentiments and well-being, MOE conducts dipstick polls, school visits by senior management, and engagement surveys. The Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) also conduct surveys and staff engagements with leaders.

3. MOE and the IHLs have put in place measures to address the concerns raised by staff on workload. At the system-level, MOE has re-prioritised initiatives and reduced schools' involvement in HQ work and pilots. Schools have also been given greater flexibility to pace the implementation of selected initiatives, including deferring implementation if this helps to spread out staff workload. For example, secondary schools and JCs were given the option to defer the implementation of Blended Learning to 2022 instead of Term 3 2021 as originally planned. At the school-level, we recognise that ground practices may vary. We have called on school leaders to re-prioritise school programmes, establish clear expectations on teachers' availability and work hours, and encourage supervisors to check in with their officers regularly. For example, school leaders have been providing guidance on avoiding parent-staff communication after school operating hours except for urgent matters, such as those involving the safety and well-being of students. This can minimise the blurring of lines between work and personal time. In line with the streamlined health protocols, ringfencing policies and contact tracing processes in schools have now also been significantly simplified and teachers' workload related to COVID-19 management is being reduced. Similarly, the IHLs have implemented various measures tailored for their institutions such as reprioritisation of work tasks to reduce workload and setting clearer expectations that staff need not reply to work e-mails after office hours unless there are exigencies.

4. To support staff who need help, MOE provides free counselling services. In addition, MOE, polytechnic and ITE staff who are public officers can access the whole-of-government counselling hotline. Staff in the Autonomous Universities have access to either in-house or external counselling services. Before COVID-19, about 50 staff from our schools sought support from MOE's in-house counsellors annually. The annual number has increased to about 80 since 2020. Similarly, the number of IHL teaching staff seeking counselling support has increased. We do not have more detailed data, as information from all counselling sessions is kept confidential, and staff are not required to report mental distress or psychiatric issues.

5. We recognise the exceptional demands that COVID-19 has placed on our staff, and have put in additional effort to promote a positive and supportive work environment for staff well-being across schools and IHLs, such as organising workshops covering stress management and self-care. As part of a new well-being initiative since September 2021, schools have nominated Wellness Ambassadors for staff to receive training on how to provide basic peer support and encourage their peers to seek help. Training has commenced in end-October. Some IHLs are implementing similar initiatives.

6. To support staff in implementing Home-Based Learning effectively, MOE and the IHLs have provided professional development courses and resources. Learning teams within and across schools have also allowed staff to collaborate and share good practices on the design and delivery of online lessons.

7. The well-being of our staff is of paramount importance, and MOE and the IHLs will continue to strengthen our support for staff to help ensure their well-being.

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