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The Paradox of Professionalism: How Bureaucracy Can Harm Teacher Profession and Reinforce Inequality

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Prepared by Nur Sakinah Alzian

14 June 2023

Teaching holds immense significance in our society, yet many teachers feel overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. As a driving force of the education system, they play a critical role in shaping the future of our society. However, the burden of administrative tasks and non-essential responsibilities can often take a toll on their well-being and effectiveness.

In response to this, YB Fadhlina Sidek has implemented a range of measures aimed at alleviating teachers' workload. These measures include discontinuing non-essential competitions and celebrations, reducing the frequency of school management reviews, allowing for more flexible attendance records, hiring outsiders as exam invigilators, limiting annual Teacher’s Day celebrations to national and school levels and providing teachers with more independence at developing and executing teaching and learning plans.

While the current measures may provide short-term solutions, it is crucial to also consider and implement long-term measures to address the underlying issue of teachers’ workload.

The Price of Bureaucracy in The Education System

Max Weber anticipated the rise of bureaucratization in modern society(1). As educational institutions cater to a growing population of students, there is a growing demand for the administration and management of educational institutions. Bureaucracy offers the organizational structure and rules needed to manage and regulate these administrative tasks in order to operate effectively and efficiently. However, there are harmful consequences to it, mainly because teachers could no longer find time to provide high-quality instruction.

Teachers and education experts have consistently raised concerns about non-teaching duties. Education expert, Dr Anuar Ahmad, pointed out that teachers are overburdened with non-teaching workloads such as overseeing canteen operations, managing textbooks, and ensuring the cleanliness of school toilets, on top of being part of various committees and having to submit numerous reports and forms to school administrators(2). A study conducted on Living Skills (Kemahiran Hidup Bersepadu) teachers indicated that they spend 8.76 hours per week on non-teaching duties and responsibilities, which is higher than a previous study conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2007(3).

In Malaysia, the working hours for teachers are not clearly defined unlike other civil servants(4). The usual belief is that teachers only work for five to six hours per day. In reality, this is not the case. The quantity of teaching hours allotted to teachers greatly influences the quality of teaching and learning outcomes. An increase in teaching hours and additional tasks may hinder teachers from effectively delivering quality education and attending to their student's learning needs.

Accordingly, it is unsurprising that the number of teachers retiring early has increased over time. The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) has raised their concern over the rising number of teachers choosing to retire early. They estimated that more than 10,000 teachers have been submitting their papers annually for early retirement over the last few years(5).

It is essential to recognize that teachers are responsible for not only delivering educational content but also providing guidance and support to their students. This increased workload has negatively impacted teacher morale and job satisfaction, leading many to consider leaving the profession altogether.

Heavy workload and the reinforcement of inequality in rural areas

Teachers with heavier workloads may have less time to prepare engaging and effective lessons or provide individualized attention to students who are struggling. This can contribute to an unequal distribution of resources across schools and classrooms, as students in more affluent schools or classrooms with less overworked teachers may have more access to higher-quality instruction. In Malaysia, this disparity is most significant in schools in rural areas.

Azwan Ahzran Perman conducted a study on the challenges that primary school teachers faced while teaching at a school in a rural area, Sabah(6). The school, situated in one of the most isolated areas with poor road access and limited connectivity, had only 14 teachers and restricted dormitory capacity. The study discovered that teachers had to make a lot of personal sacrifices beyond their designated teaching tasks. Due to poor digital infrastructure, teachers would leave the island during their leisure time or even hike up a hill in search of a reliable signal to access information.

Currently, most of the clerical work is done online. However, limited internet access in rural areas creates challenges for teachers in utilizing online resources for administrative tasks. The digital divide, combined with heavy workloads, hampers teaching quality as teachers struggle to access technology and fulfill clerical duties. This situation can hinder students' learning experience, leading to lower education quality and negative learning outcomes.


The heavy workload of teachers due to administrative tasks and non-essential responsibilities is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently. The increasing bureaucratization of the education system burdens teachers with non-teaching duties, hindering their primary role as educators. The Malaysian government needs to take measures to reduce teachers' workload and provide them with more autonomy in developing and executing teaching and learning plans. Failure to do so may lead to the loss of highly skilled educators and a brain drain of skilled teachers leaving the system. Recognizing the critical role teachers play in shaping the future of our society, and their welfare must be a priority to create a more sustainable and equitable education system. After all, teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions, and this sentiment is particularly relevant for Malaysia as it seeks to develop and grow as a nation.

Nur Sakinah Alzian is a research fellow at Social and Economic Research Initiative (SERI). SERI is a non-partisan think-tank dedicated to the promotion of evidence-based policies that address issues of inequality. Visit or email for more information.


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