The story of the starfish is a story I heard during a career talk for teachers. A boy was throwing starfish back into the ocean on a beach. An old man watching him asked why was he doing so. The young boy replied that they would die if he didn’t. The old man then said that there were miles and miles of beach and starfish along every mile, he couldn’t possibly make a difference. To which, the boy’s reply was to pick up another starfish, throw it into the ocean, and said, “I made a difference to that one”.
Teaching has long been regarded as a “noble profession” and an “iron rice bowl” in Singapore. Depending on who you ask, you may get the impression that teachers are either well-paid or grossly underpaid for the work they do. Amidst the current economic conditions, perhaps you are considering joining the teaching service to secure an “iron rice bowl”.
According to MOE, the MOE Schemes of Service, including Education Officers which covers teachers, will receive a salary adjustment from 1 October 2022. This is to ensure teaching salary remains competitive. About 35,000 Education Officers will receive a 5% to 10% increase in their monthly salaries.
Here’s how much you can earn as a Ministry of Education (MOE) teacher teaching primary, secondary or junior college levels and the additional bonuses you receive for staying in service.
MOE Pays You To Be A Teacher
Teaching is a rare profession that pays you to be trained for the profession. All NIE training is fully funded by MOE and you will receive a salary during your untrained teaching stint and during your NIE teaching. Those who receive teaching scholarships and sponsorships would receive allowances even earlier during the period they are obtaining their qualifications.
For this investment into your education and training, MOE imposes a bond on all teachers. You would have to pay damages if you fail to graduate from NIE or resign or are terminated from service before serving out your bond.
Teaching Salary Differs Depending On Your Qualifications And Not The Level You Teach
One of the first misperceptions people have regarding teaching salary is that primary school teachers are paid differently from secondary school or junior college teachers. Instead, all teachers are paid according to their qualifications and not the level they teach. A teacher with university qualifications will be paid the same regardless of whether he or she is teaching in a primary school or in a junior college. However, teachers who start with lower entry qualifications are deployed to mainly primary and secondary schools.
To illustrate, a Chinese Language Teacher teaching in primary school may be receiving a salary of $2,600 to $4,000 during their NIE training, depending on their entry qualifications.
MOE does not release detailed salary information of trained teachers; instead, we assume that the starting salary of trained teachers would be close to their salary during their NIE training with a slight increment of $100 to $200.
|Entry Qualifications||GCE O Level holders||GCE A Level, Polytechnic Diploma, International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma holders||Degree holders|
|Training||Diploma at NP (for Chinese and Tamil Language) or NAFA (for Art and Music), followed by Diploma in Education at NIE||Diploma in Education (DipEd) at NIE||Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) at NIE|
|Programme||4 years, funded by MOE||2 years, funded by MOE||16 months, funded by MOE|
|Bond||5 years||3 years||3 years|
|Salary during untrained teaching stint and NIE||allowance of $800 during first 3 years at NP or NAFA
salary of $2,695 during the final year at NIE
|$1,980 to $2,695||$3,090 to $4,015|
|Teaching Subjects||Art, Music, Chinese Language, Tamil Language in primary schools||Art, Music, Physical Education, Mother Tongue Language — Chinese, Malay, Tamil Language in primary schools||Various subjects, depending on your major, at all teaching level (primary, secondary or junior college)|
Note: To enter teaching service as a GCE O Level holder, you must be offered the Teacher Training Sponsorship. MOE offers other teaching scholarships and sponsorships that are not included in this table.
Teachers Have To Go Through A Paid Untrained Teaching Stint
In the past, would-be teachers would enroll directly into NIE for training before being deployed to the schools to teach. However, MOE has changed this to stem the high attrition from teachers. All potential teachers must go through a compulsory stint as an untrained contract teacher before being enrolled into NIE for training, and this forms part of the assessment for some teaching scholarships and sponsorships as well.
This untrained teaching stint is meant to allow you to have a taste of teaching life and help you and MOE to assess your suitability to be a teacher. You would be paid a salary during this stint commensurate with your qualifications.
MOE Teachers Are Automatically Enrolled In The CONNECT Plan
The CONNECT Plan or Education Service Incentive Payment is an incentive plan to encourage teachers to stay in the teaching service. Under the CONNECT Plan, MOE sets aside a sum of money ($3,200 to $8,320) each year for eligible teachers. This would be paid out at key points (every 3 to 5 years) in a teacher’s teaching career.
MOE CONNECT Plan Deposits and Payouts
|Years Of Service||Annual Deposit For a teacher with PGDE||Cumulative Deposit||Payout|
In theory, a teacher who has a PGDE would be receiving $168,800 in CONNECT payouts if he or she stays in teaching service for 30 years, on top of his or her regular salary and annual bonuses. However, a teacher will forfeit any CONNECT deposit if he or she resigns before the payout. For example, if a teacher resigns at the end of his or her 3-year bond, he or she forfeits $18,960 of CONNECT deposits.
MOE has also indicated that the CONNECT Plan will be enhanced. Starting from 2023, there will be an overall enhancement of about 20%, and the annual deposit quantum and payout ratio will be raised to better support teachers in the earlier years of their careers.
Assuming a linear 20% increase, this will be an estimated payout of $18,240 at the first payout year (an increase of $3,040), $28,800 at the second payout year (an increase of $4,800), and so forth, for a total of $202,560 (an increase of $33,760). Given that the enhancement is intended to better support teachers in their early careers, it is possible that the CONNECT plan will be adjusted to have a higher payout in the first few payout years. This will only be confirmed in 2023 when the CONNECT plan is officially enhanced.
Teachers Receive The Same Annual Bonuses As Civil Servants
As the teaching service is considered part of the civil service, teachers receive the same annual bonus as civil servants. For 2023, this was the 0.3 mid-year bonus that has been paid out in the middle of the year. Teachers will also receive the year-end and 13th month bonus.
Future Developments For Teachers
To help expand teachers’ perspectives, MOE will be introducing Teacher Work Attachment Plus (TWA+). These are short-term attachment opportunities in the people, private and public sectors. Through dialogues with expert from external organisations, teachers will be enabled to keep abreast of changes beyond the classroom.
Additionally, the pandemic has placed a focus on teachers’ mental wellbeing. MOE will be working with schools to better manage teaching workloads, strengthen peer support and introduce trained Wellness Ambassadors in schools. Resources will continue to be provided for free workshops on self-care and well-being, and free in-house and whole-of-government counselling services.
A new online portal with tips for safeguarding mental health and work concerns on burnout and managing workload, called “mindline at work for MOE” is also set up for teachers to tap on.
Are Teachers Well-Paid Or Underpaid?
Based on international comparisons, Singaporean teachers are adequately compensated. Singapore neither appear on the best paid lists nor the worst paid list. Compared to the starting salaries of other university graduates, the teaching salary of $4,000 is not too far from the median starting salaries of graduates in 2019.
However, ask any teacher and they might tell you a totally different story. Many teachers fork out their own money to obtain supplies, stationery, IT equipment and even gifts for the students as part of their daily work. Teachers even have to pay for parking in the schools they work at. Add on the complaints of the long hours of marking, laments about unrecognised hours spent coaching students, making lesson plans and being the second parent and/or counsellor to the children they teach and the work that teachers put in start to look as if it isn’t as adequately compensated as it seems.
In the end, the choice to be a teacher is a personal decision. While the salary may be attractive in itself, the hours and working environment may not suit everyone. The ‘iron rice bowl’ still has its appeal but it is no longer as easy to enter the teaching service as it once was.
This article was first published on 29 October 2020 and updated with new information.
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