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Teacher transfers must prioritise ‘most difficult’ schools: Study

A common complaint among teachers working in the most “difficult” schools is that the prevailing transfer system should be revised, with more consideration paid to teachers working in such schools.

This is according to a research article titled “Job satisfaction of teachers working in the most difficult schools, with special reference to the Puttalam Education Zone” authored by M.L.H. Sumanasena, F.M. Nawastheen, and P.R. Jayawardena, and published recently in the Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences.

This study was conducted with 93 teachers selected from the 74 most difficult schools in the Puttalam Education Zone. Two thirds of the teachers were female (66%) and most were married (66%). Only 2% were widowed. The majority of the teachers were graduates and trained teachers with less than 10 years of service.

The study noted that in the most underserved and under-resourced schools, a comparatively smaller number of experienced graduate teachers with postgraduate diplomas are found. In fact, three-fourths of teachers were found to be below the age of 40 years and with less than 10 years of teaching experience. This raises concerns of there being either only a few opportunities, or that they are not encouraged to join professional development programmes. This may in turn influence teachers’ job satisfaction and students’ performance as well.

Five dimensions were identified as intrinsic factors that contribute to the job satisfaction of teachers: sense of achievement, recognition (the reputation that a teacher gains from the school community), nature of work (meaningfulness of the work and its suitability for the individual’s professional and academic qualifications), responsibility, and advancement and personal growth. 

The findings indicated the influential contribution of intrinsic factors to the job satisfaction of the majority of teachers, with the highest scores being for the nature of work, advancement (upward career mobility) and personal growth, and recognition, and the lowest scores being for the sense of achievement (confirming there is no influence from students’ performance on teachers’ satisfaction), and responsibility.

Seven variables were considered as extrinsic factors; namely, school policy and administration (principal’s leadership qualities and school practices are important aspects), supervision (internal and external), interpersonal relationships, work conditions, pay and rewards, job security, and general attitudes towards job satisfaction. A large section of teachers (nearly half) accepted that extrinsic factors influenced their job satisfaction, with the highest scores being for the relevant institute’s policy and administration, pay and rewards, general attitudes towards job satisfaction, supervision, and working conditions.

However, the strength of the linear positive relationship between job satisfaction and extrinsic factors was found to be weaker than the linear positive relationship between job satisfaction and intrinsic factors.

It was apparent that most of the teachers are happy working in the most difficult schools. They are satisfied with their job for many reasons. Some of their attitudes were expressed as follows: “It is challenging to work in a difficult school. However, it is more meritorious to support these innocent students who get very few chances in society. My difficulties are forgotten when I see their happy faces”; “This is a good experience for me. Many teachers do not get the chance of having such an experience”; “In these schools, we mostly care to retain students at least for the mandatory schooling period instead of focusing on their achievements. Sometimes we visit their homes to encourage them to continue schooling. So, we feel that our efforts are worth more than money”; and “I have been working here for nearly six years. Still I feel very sorry about these students and I like to be here and teach them as they need our support and guidance the most. If I get a transfer, it may take months or years to fill that vacancy”.

The specific reasons why teachers are happy can be summarised as follows: because they are teaching children of underprivileged families; because of the experience teachers gain in a difficult school; and because of the appreciation teachers gain from the school community.

Likewise, teachers who work in difficult schools face unique challenges in comparison to their urban counterparts. Factors such as students’ negative attitude towards learning; minimal parental involvement in children’s learning; a lack of understanding among parents and students concerning the importance of education; workload pressures as a result of the shortage of teachers in these areas; limited access to resources; and difficulties in travelling, all negatively affect teachers’ satisfaction, leading to frustration and stress. 

Furthermore, although teaching in a remote context provides leadership opportunities, most teachers are dissatisfied with having to take on extra responsibilities despite being less experienced teachers. The researchers concluded that many teachers may have personal problems relating to family matters in addition to their work at school.

Teachers, the authors noted, try to get transfers to urban schools or sometimes quit their job as they become dissatisfied with the above mentioned factors. Moreover, the point was made that teachers who are very dedicated to working in these schools and those who have many years of experience should be identified, and their untiring work be recognised.

The majority of students in difficult schools need individual attention, as they come from less-privileged families and social backgrounds. Therefore, the teachers believe that the number of students in a class should be small. However, the actual situation is totally opposite, as there are an inadequate number of teachers in most of these schools. There is a serious issue regarding the number of teachers, as demonstrated by the teacher-student ratio.

The revision of circulars to increase incentives is a remedial measure that can be put into practice by the authorities, the researchers explained. It was found that teachers become frustrated as the students’ attendance rates are very low. To overcome this problem, it was suggested that the school environment and classrooms should be made more attractive to students, in that there should be a supportive and friendly environment. Teachers should also be equipped with the necessary resources and instruments to teach in a friendly and attractive manner as a solution for students’ absenteeism.

The authors recommended that there should be a close relationship between the teachers and the parents. As most of the parents are not educated, they do not understand the importance of schooling, and they promote their home industry instead, rather than education. Thus, parents’ attitudes towards education have to be made positive as an initial step.

The supervision and evaluating processes should also be modified. The prevailing process of supervision is another weak point encountered in this study. Monitoring takes place under three broad avenues, namely, team inspection, individual supervision, and internal supervision. 

However, these monitoring processes are not effective and teachers do not get effective solutions for the practical problems they face. Many teachers believe that the support given to them by the In-Service Advisors (ISA) was minimal. Therefore, it is recommended by the researchers that supervision should be with the greater involvement of ISAs. School-based teacher development programmes can also be implemented to overcome their problems.

The State should therefore address teachers’ problems by providing them adequate teaching facilities, in-service training, promotions, and accommodation and incentives, while revising transfer policies to motivate and retain teachers in the most difficult schools, to provide a long-term solution for teacher shortages in such schools.