Immigrant Teachers in Singapore Schools: Backgrounds, Integration, and Diversification , pp. 5 of 11

With regard to professional integration, immigrant teachers generally found adjusting to and integrating in local school settings manageable and not too difficult. Respondents were asked how difficult it was for them to adjust to their first school in Singapore with regard to four professional aspects: (1) school administration; (2) teaching practices; (3) curriculum differences; (4) school values. On a scale of 1 to 5, with ‘1’ representing the least difficulty, most teachers chose between ‘1’ to ‘3’ for all four aspects. Among these aspects, school administration (2.44) seemed the most difficult to adjust to, followed closely by teaching practices (2.34), and curriculum differences (2.24); interestingly, integrating into their first schools in terms of school values seemed the least difficult (1.92) for teachers from all backgrounds.

Regarding all four aspects of integration, China-background teachers consistently reported difficulty levels slightly higher than the sample means (namely, they found it more difficult), whereas teachers from India and Malaysia reported difficulty levels below the sample means. However, it should be noted that the differences between the scores here were all minimal.

3. Professional Experiences

Qualitative data from the study revealed a range of insights into the professional experiences of the immigrant teachers. MT (Chinese) teachers, especially those hailing from China, typically mentioned that their weaker command of the English language represented an obstacle to their social and professional integration, although they often added that their schools and colleagues were usually understanding and accommodative. This group of teachers also often found the multiple roles a teacher in a Singapore school is required to play (especially administrative roles in addition to teaching) something they had to adapt to.

Most immigrant teachers in one way or another mentioned that their lack of local Singaporean experience and knowledge hindered their rapport building with Singaporean students. At the same time, however, they also tended to consider it a strength that they could bring into their teaching different perspectives and viewpoints stemming from their backgrounds. Several immigrant teachers of non-Chinese ethnic backgrounds reported frustrating experiences to do with the rejection of their PR applications, and some held perceptions that their career progression were adversely affected as a result. Among non-MT (Chinese) immigrant teachers, especially those with Western upbringing or education, some reported experiences of encountering and negotiating with dominant values and practices in Singaporean schools that were at odds with their personal values and beliefs.

Due to space limit, the following accounts shall focus on MT (Chinese) teachers’ challenges in relation to CCE teaching and some non-MT teachers’ experiences of value tensions as manifested in the context of sexuality education. All names used in the following accounts are pseudonyms, and occasionally information such as the teachers’ teaching subjects and their national backgrounds have been removed to avoid identification.

3a. MT (Chinese) Teachers’ Challenge: Language Barriers Hindering CCE Teaching

The catchphrase coined by the Ministry of Education, ‘Every teacher a CCE teacher’ (Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 8), reflects the Ministry’s expectation in involving all teachers in implementing National Education regardless of their subject expertise. Generally, the schools involved in this study were found to deploy all teachers, immigrant or local, to implement CCE in secondary classrooms. Consequently, many immigrant MT teachers, specifically those hailing from China, who possessed low(er) levels of English language proficiency, struggled to deliver CCE lessons in English.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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