Evarist Bartolo | Sunday, 15 March 2009

Listen to the teachers

The grand target of increasing the number of students going on to post-secondary education by 25% in the next six years is impressive, but how is this great leap forward going to happen?
If 85% of our children who are now in primary school are to acquire the necessary skills, competences and motivation to want to continue studying after the age of 16 and to succeed, dramatic improvements need to happen in our primary and secondary schools immediately.
Teachers are being exhorted to deliver a better education system, but they are not being treated as equal partners in the process. Teachers keep telling me: “First and foremost, teachers do not feature anywhere in this reform. We are treated as if we are morons. We are asked to go for training sessions (which most teachers want) but then we have no say in any of the changes that are supposed to be taking place. When we complained we were told to leave things to the professionals – and apparently teachers are not professionals but people who never stepped into a primary classroom are!”
Even the most superficial reading of books on education reform shows that successful policy changes happen when people are involved and there is ownership. Teachers are worried that, as things stand, they are bound to be lumped with syllabi and policies which they have to put into practice but which they might not agree with or believe in.
Teachers see a big gap between all the nice words stated by government on the media, and what goes on in our schools. Another teacher who is keen to improve education for her children told me: “No one wants to listen to us and they think we are all doom and gloom, because we are not prepared to change. There is also the tacit implication that there is a lot of bad practice in schools. This might be so in some cases but there are also a lot of teachers who work hard and care for the pupils, and who go out of their way to try and figure out how to help those who are slower to learn. No one says that we work without any support whatsoever.”
Teachers need the support of psychologists, doctors and social workers. They also need other teachers who can replace them when they attend a seminar which they need for their own professional development and feel bad about letting their down their children as they would spend the day scattered around in different classes!
Despite the big talk by government of the millions and millions of euros spent on education, only a few drops trickle down to the classrooms – where investment is needed most. In successful education systems based on quality and equality, where most of the students succeed and there is a very narrow gap between those in front and those who lag behind, as much as 30% of the education budget gets spent on books, educational resources and e-learning facilities in classrooms; much less (perhaps not more than 9%) of our budget is spent on resources in the classrooms.
In this scholastic year, five months had to pass before the schools started getting the budget they are supposed to get at the beginning of the year to spend on running their buildings and resourcing the classrooms. A teacher told me: “Most of the schools have become like ‘l-Istrina’, with the heads trying to figure out how to collect more and more funds. I find this disgusting and very far from the aims of schools to educate. Then if the parents do not contribute, it is assumed that they do not want their children to learn, that they are not interested in their children’s education.”
Heads of schools have lodged hundreds of requests so that the schools have a decent level of cleanliness and hygiene and operate in a safe environment. Many of these requests still have to be met when we are already more than halfway through the scholastic year. Teachers tell me how many of our schools are freezing.
“The highest temperature in our class at the moment is 12 degrees. Can you sit all day in that environment?”
Work also needs to be done to challenge and change some of the negative behaviour of some teachers and heads towards pupils and students. A parent told me how a teacher referred to a nine-year-old girl in front of the class as an ‘idiot’ who wastes her time staring at nothing: “belha u ccassata”. You can imagine what self-confidence she is giving that girl to be able to succeed and develop her personality!
There are heads with very poor leadership qualities who run down their teachers and students and do not build a good relationship with the parents. A teacher who was invigilating a Year 6 exam felt there was a question in one of the papers which was terribly unfair on pupils. “When I voiced my concern the head answered: “That’s life, some can move on while others are stuck where they are.”
At the same time, disruptive behaviour by students needs to be tackled seriously as they bully other students and teachers and make it impossible for any serious education to take place. Glossy documents about good behaviour in schools are not enough. Serious work needs to be done in this area and students and teachers need to be helped to establish civilised behaviour in all schools and classes.
As government moves ahead to eliminate streaming from all classes in the primary schools, more, much more needs to be done to have effective mixed ability teaching. Teachers themselves say that at the moment in schools there is very little awareness of what constitutes diversity in education and how to give the same top quality education to different children. For many years now we have had lots of talk about inclusion. In most cases inclusion means admitting children with special needs in classrooms and even the presence of most of the learning support assistants so far shows that the teaching culture and methods used are still not inclusive.
Nothing serious is being done to prepare teachers on how to educate children coming from different social backgrounds, countries, ethnic groups and religions. This is another area where our schools still have not woken up to the reality that Malta in the 21st century is also fast becoming a multicultural society.

Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



All the interviews from Reporter on MaltaToday's YouTube channel.


Small wonder such big confusion...


Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email