The transcript of the Minister of State's response is below.
Today's Straits Times ran an article titled "Debates that could have been...", questioning why Eunice Olsen and I had not pushed further. In particular, the journalist asked why we did not question the MOS's statement that it was "not appropriate" to discuss individual cases in Parliament, wondering why we raised the issue in the first place. He then went on speculate that maybe our "seeming listlessness" was because we were preocccupied with the issues raised in the National Day Rally. I am not able to link to this article, because it is not freely available online.
I won't purport to speak on Eunice's behalf. But I will respond a little to that article.
I would be the first to raise my hand and admit that my performance in Parliament, on the spot, could be better. It can always be better. I wish I could think as quickly on my feet in Parliament, as when I am outside Parliament. I wish I wasn't nervous when it's my turn, as I always am. I wish Parliament sat more often, so that I could get more experience more quickly. I wish I had the luxury of time, of being able to sit at my desk and formulate my thoughts and craft my words, instead of having only a minute or less to think about an angle and to craft the question before I have to speak.
Unfortunately, life is not about wishes. I'm not better than I am, and none of those wishes are going to come true, at least not the last two. Hopefully the first two will become less of a problem in future.
I can only say that I'm doing my best, and hopefully that's good enough. I did think about pushing further on the "inappropriateness" point. But I already know that if a minister does not want to answer, you will not get an answer. You will instead get the original response restated again, as in this case. The transcript shows that, unlike what the reporter had suggested, I did ask two follow-up questions. Just see the response to my second follow-up.
I personally have no wish to be a broken record, repeating myself over and over again. It's not my style. The record will speak for itself.
RECRUITMENT OF TEACHERS AND RELIEF TEACHERS
12. Ms Eunice Elizabeth Olsen asked the Minister for Education (a) what are the stringent criteria the Ministry sets in the recruitment of teachers and relief teachers; and (b) how much autonomy do Government schools have in choosing their relief teachers.
13. Mr Siew Kum Hong asked the Minister for Education (a) what are the criteria for the hiring of relief teachers; (b) how many applicants to be relief teachers have been rejected in the past five years; and (c) what was the reason for rejecting the application of Mr Alfian Sa'at, who had scored A1s at the GCE 'O' Levels.
The Minister of State for Education (RAdm [NS] Lui Tuck Yew) (for the Minister for Education): Mr Speaker, Sir, with your permission, I will take Question Nos. 12 and 13 together.
Mr Speaker: Yes.
RAdm [NS] Lui Tuck Yew: Teachers are in a unique position of authority and have great influence over the children they teach; engaging hearts and minds and shaping their attitudes and perspectives. Whether permanent or relief, teachers are expected to conduct themselves in a manner which befits this role and to uphold the integrity of the profession, both in their professional and personal capacity.
To be engaged as teachers, applicants need to have the requisite educational qualifications, an acceptable level of content mastery of the subjects that they intend to teach and demonstrate the aptitude and a genuine passion for teaching. The values they hold and espouse are also an important consideration as they are important role models for our children.
Applicants for relief teaching can apply directly to MOE. On an annual basis, we receive about 3,000 applications for first time registration as relief teachers and about 3% of these are rejected. Once provisionally accepted, their names are entered into MOE's central database of registered relief teachers and schools in need of relief teachers can then approach them directly. Schools can also engage relief teachers who have met minimum criteria but are not registered in the central database. Schools would then recommend these relief teachers to be registered with the Ministry.
Finally, let me say that it is not appropriate to discuss individual cases of teachers or relief teachers in this House.
Ms Eunice Elizabeth Olsen (Nominated Member): I would like to thank the Minister of State. I have two supplementary questions for him. First, I would like to ask him whether the Ministry informs the applicants who are rejected as relief teachers or teachers the reason as to why they do not meet the criteria and what criteria they do not meet. My second question is: what kind of a teaching force the Ministry is looking to build, what qualities a person might have to contribute to that, and what kind of liabilities will detract from that?
RAdm [NS] Lui Tuck Yew: In response to the first supplementary question, we may give applicants a general idea of the areas in which they have fallen short of the criteria. This depends on a case-to-case basis. And secondly, on the teaching force, our target is to have approximately 30,000 teachers in the teaching force by the end of 2010. We are on track to accomplish this target. The criteria that we look for in our teachers, as I had mentioned earlier, include not only their academic qualifications but also demonstrating a genuine passion for teaching, being able to engage people and children, as well as holding and espousing the right set of values.
Mr Siew Kum Hong (Nominated Member): Sir, I have two supplementary questions for the MOS. My first question is, from the numbers cited by the MOS, it seems that annually, about 90 applicants for registration will be rejected. I would like to ask the MOS what are the typical reasons for rejecting these 90 or so applicants every year. My second question is with regard to this specific application of Mr Alfian Sa'at, and I take the MOS' point that it is not appropriate to discuss specific applications in this House. Having said that, I understand from Mr Alfian Sa'at that the reason for the rejection of his application was not really explained to him. So I would like to ask the MOS whether it is the Ministry's position that it is appropriate to reject this sort of application without going to specific reasons, if only to let the applicant know how he or she may improve himself or herself, so that he or she may take up a teaching position in future.
RAdm [NS] Lui Tuck Yew: The Member is correct in that we have a rejection rate of about 3%, rounding up to about 100 cases that are rejected annually. The reasons vary. Some of them are because the applicants do not meet the minimum educational criteria. Or sometimes, it is really because of a variety of reasons like, for example, their past records, disciplinary cases, and so on. On Mr Sa'at's case, like I have said, I think the most appropriate thing to do would be for him to engage MOE directly and we can deal with the case on an individual basis.