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NEWS | Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Cristina – ‘we no longer have a teacher shortage’

Minister contradicts teachers’ union’s claims of impending shortage but says government will be marketing profession to aspiring teachers. By Matthew Vella

The new minister for education Dolores Cristina has contradicted alarmist claims by the president of the Malta Union of Teachers that Malta faces a teacher shortage.
MUT president John Bencini claims Malta will be facing a teacher crisis because the number of prospective teachers “is seriously dwindling”.
Bencini said that around 15 teachers leave the profession every year due to low status, limited career advancement, poor working conditions and low salaries. He said only 130 students are registered for a Batchelor of Education in the primary sector, meaning that only an average of 42 new primary school teachers will be available each year in the coming four years.
Anthony Micallef-Debono, a challenger for the post of MUT president, has concurred with Bencini’s alarm bells on the shortage of teachers, especially in the primary sector. “Indeed the problem does exist. Primary school teachers’ conditions of work should better reflect the demands being made on primary school teachers and administrators. Their present working conditions, together with those of secondary school teachers and administrators need to be improved.”
But Cristina has claimed the facts show otherwise: “The State employs approximately 3,000 teachers to serve in primary, secondary and the post-secondary institutions under the Directorate for Educational Services (DES). Today, the Human Resources Development Department within this directorate reports that there are three vacancies for teachers in State schools. The vacancies are in Computer Studies and a number of persons have been interviewed to fill in these vacancies. All other classes are provided with teaching staff at this point in time to deliver the curricular programme designed for our students.
“The facts speak for themselves. Today, we do not have a teacher shortage,” Cristina told MaltaToday.
But the minister still acknowledged that the future has to be evaluated to ensure tomorrow’s students will have the best qualified teachers possible.
Cristina admits that there are subjects in which Malta has a surplus of graduate teachers while there are certain subjects in which “we may experience difficulties in the future”.
She expressed agreement with Bencini’s call to market the teaching profession, saying DES is currently developing a marketing strategy to provide information to students about vacancies, as well as highlighting the major characteristics and benefits of becoming a teacher.
“Any profession needs to be carefully marketed. The teaching profession merits no less…
More flexible terms of employment have been devised so as to attract persons who can provide part-time teaching services. It is very clear that the IT sector is where most vacancies exist and it is here that the risk of shortages may be higher. The Ministry is considering engaging in discussions with IT companies so as to propose a corporate social responsibility strategy whereby education and training is a major part of the agenda.”
John Bencini says teachers are not encouraged to actually remain in the teaching profession, while educational authorities would seem more interested in ‘league tables’. In his words, at the age of 50, teachers are “desperate” to leave their jobs.
Among the host of reasons would be the element of stress in the teaching profession, especially in public schools. He says teachers feel “undervalued, overburdened and powerless” when dealing with the educational hierarchy.
“Good working conditions are necessary to have motivated workers,” Cristina said. “However, it is interesting to note the top educational systems in the world seem to be so successful due to three main factors: the selection of the best graduates into the teaching profession, the provision of a strong professional development programme since they become teachers, and early screening mechanisms to identify students who lag behind as early as possible.”
Cristina said good salaries are however not the major factor attracting the right teachers:
“High salaries were not found to be a major factor for drawing quality teachers into the profession. This does not eliminate the reality that we always need to evaluate work conditions and negotiate win-win situations that possible and sustainable.”
Cristina said the ongoing reform amending the Education Act and the Government-MUT agreement would continue to be implemented. “Our central aim will always be to provide students with an educational programme that gives them the space and opportunity to develop into happy, satisfied, confident and competent individuals. Quality teachers are an integral part of this process and the Ministry of Education will continue to strive to attract the best teachers possible so as to give students the maximum chance of success.”

mvella@mediatoday.com.mt


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