Teacher autonomy in Singapore’s private institutions of higher learning: teacher experiences and expectations

Kappen, Boby Sebastian (2023) Teacher autonomy in Singapore’s private institutions of higher learning: teacher experiences and expectations. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This research investigated teacher perceptions of the concept of teacher autonomy (TA) in Singapore's private institutions of higher learning (PIHL). The thesis explores how teachers in Singapore’s PIHL view TA by studying their understanding of autonomy, factors that enhance or hinder their autonomy, degree of autonomy they experience in their institutions, and their expectations of TA. The research also explores the differences between the ways in which teachers in two levels – non-managerial and managerial – view teacher autonomy. While the research is focused on studies conducted in Southeast Asian countries, it has also incorporated countries that are like Singapore in terms of geography, culture, or education.

This research collected qualitative data through face-to-face interviews and quantitative data through survey questionnaires. The participants were teachers and teacher-mangers who were selected through convenience sampling. Quantitative data was collected using questionnaire survey and 157 participants participated in the survey. They were teachers or teacher-managers from 12 institutions that volunteered to be a part of this study. Face-to-face semi-structured interviews provided qualitative data from 12 participants of the same demographic background as the survey participants. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected at the same time, and both data was analysed separately, and the results were compared.

The quantitative data analysis suggested that participants were generally in favour of having teacher autonomy (TA) at work while showing a lower level of agreement when it came to their own current experience of having teacher autonomy. Participants’ responses towards perceived TA differed depending on the type of work-related processes. The results from the analysis of the differences in participants' current experiences and opinions found higher levels of perceived TA in their opinions rather than in their experiences, indicating a possibility that participants did not actually experience the degree of autonomy which they believed they had at work.

The qualitative data analysis indicated that while both groups agreed on the need for some level of autonomy for teachers in the classroom, they differed in their opinion about teachers having complete autonomy in making decisions about their classroom teaching and teachers' involvement in administrative decision-making matters. While management participants were mostly informed about the government policies related to private higher education in Singapore, teacher participants were generally unaware of the existence of such policies suggesting a possible lack of communication among different levels in the hierarchy. The research also implied that teachers and teacher-managers perceive teacher autonomy differently while teachers’ expectations were not met due to institutional restrictions. The degree of autonomy that teachers got to exercise was dependent on the outcomes of teaching that were pre-determined by the market forces.

The data analysis has also led to the design of a teacher autonomy framework that linked teacher autonomy with four areas that it depended on: teaching, assessment, planning and decision-making, and professional development. While teachers can perform well in these four areas with the right degree of autonomy, policies, leadership, political and cultural landscape of a country can determine the performance of teachers. However, to what extent teachers get influenced by these factors also depend on their views and perceptions about autonomy, degree of motivation, and professional competence.

The thesis also suggests the influence of market forces on teacher autonomy in Singapore. In an environment of marketization, teacher autonomy cannot exist as the education system is driven by institutional regulations and market forces (Berry, 2013). As a result of the influences of marketisation where academic results took precedence, teachers were evaluated based on the academic achievement of their learners, pressurising teachers to focus on results instead of the process of learning (McGowan, 2015).

The limitations of this research are also areas for further research. First, recruiting participants and collecting information were challenging due to the sensitive nature of the research topic in the Singapore context. Moreover, PIHL were generally not interested to support research projects as the research would not directly benefit them. If public institutions were involved, more participation could be expected. Also, there was a lack of data on teacher autonomy as there was limited published information available in these areas. Had I considered religious, political, and social factors as areas shaping teachers' perceptions in this study, it would have broadened the scope of this research. However, the limited time and resources did not allow a comprehensive study of that magnitude.

The framework that was developed from this research has identified the external influences on teacher autonomy that comprise government and institutional policies, leadership, local politics and cultural landscape of the country and the region while the internal influences comprise teacher motivation, their perceptions and teacher professional competence. These influences shape the perceptions of teachers on teacher autonomy in teaching, assessment, planning and decision-making, and professional development.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Bailey, Lucy
August, Alberto Luis
Subramaniam, Ganakumaran
Keywords: teacher autonomy (TA); teacher perceptions; performativity; marketization; massification; institutional policy; government policy; educational policy; cultural patterns; private institutions for higher learning (PIHL); leadership; Council for Private Education/Committee for Private Education (CPE)
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Faculties/Schools: University of Nottingham, Malaysia > Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Education
Item ID: 74001
Depositing User: Sebastian Kappen, Boby
Date Deposited: 23 Jul 2023 04:40
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2023 04:30
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/74001

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