The Malta Independent 16 December 2017, Saturday

‘Do we really value education?’ Dean of Education asks

Joanna Demarco Tuesday, 24 October 2017, 12:25 Last update: about 3 months ago

The decline in teachers is an issue currently under discussion. How has the number of teachers declined?

It’s a complex issue. If you see the number of students who are interested in teaching today compared to the numbers we used to have in the past, then yes, there is a drop. If one compares current figures to those of the past two or three years there is not a huge drop in numbers, however if you had to compare to a more distant past then yes there is a significant drop.  However that is only part of the puzzle, as there are certain subjects where generally we do have a good amount of applicants, and others where we are clearly facing problems.

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We have had problems to encourage students to become teachers in certain areas, for example Design &Technology and Computing, but also the Sciences and Maths. Some of these are areas where the teaching profession finds it very hard to compete with the market out there. If you have somebody who graduates in these areas, they can generally find jobs, probably with a lesser degree than the teaching qualification actually gives you, and yet a much better salary. Overall, the faculty has been producing a good number of teachers over the past years, so it is quite obvious that there are also problems elsewhere. I refer to deployment and the fact that there are a number of teachers who may be resigning from their jobs, for example.

When the Faculty raised the Initial Teacher Education degree to Masters level, through a reform initiated in 2013, it was partly due to the fact that there were a number of graduates who just weren’t finding jobs as teachers.  Now this has changed over a short span of time, which is worrying in its own right. When we undertook this reform we had lengthy discussions with the ministry, the union, heads from different schools in the different sectors, etc and we found support from all those involved, as they agreed that the country needs to invest in quality educators.

The global number of qualified teachers we have here as compared to the number of students we have in schools is low when compared to EU standards… I think one of the things which need to be seen to better is the deployment of teachers.

There is an outcry that salary needs to be raised for teachers. When we’re talking about an increased salary, by how much is it expected to rise?

It would be unfair of me to answer that question, because I am not the employer and not the union, so I think it would be unfair of me to say I want teachers to earn this much and just give you a figure. Teachers are not highly paid in most EU states, which is a shame. Whenever I attend meetings or conferences abroadthe emphasis that education is important is constantly harked upon. But between what is said and actually done, people do not walk the talk when it comes to education. They do not actually say look, we believe education is important, let’s really invest in it.  This is not only Malta I’m talking about, I’d like to be clear about this.  But yes, the salaries are an issue. We fully support the fact that teachers need a significant raise in their salary, there are no two ways about it.

At the moment a teacher’s salary, even by local standards, is poor, I think teachers find it hard to raise a family with their salaries.

What is more problematic is the prospects of salary increase throughout their career, which is very limited. So you might spend ten years at a school doing your job well, and you would not be rewarded for this. You have to become either an assistant head or take on a managerial role, which means moving out of the classroom, which is a shame. I would prefer if there were a way to have increments while allowing teachers to remain in the classroom, especially teachers who want to remain in the classroom and who are good teachers.

I think the salary should rise because ultimately we need to give importance to education and because teachers are important in society. Keep in mind the role that the teacher plays, very often teachers are with children for a longer period of time than their parents at this day and age. It is a huge responsibility, so salaries, conditions and prospects should be improved. If the standards are lowered, there is a ripple effect on our whole education system and on society as a whole.

 

What do you think about training for supply teachers?

This is a situation which I understand that the employer has to deal with and of course. Unfortunately, in education supply does not always match demand and that’s a problem, that’s an issue.

So schools sometimes have to engage supply teachers; that is people who are not fully qualified who take on the role as teachers some of whom may have never set foot in the faculty. The faculty always believes that there is a specific route for teaching, and quality education is important. There is therefore a process of becoming a teacher and that’s why we hark on the fact of having a long-term plan, in order to reduce, slowly but surely, the amount of supply teachers in schools.

Let’s take an analogy, in law, we have a huge backlog of cases in our law courts as far as I know. Does anybody ever dream of engaging supply lawyers in order to reduce the backlog? If in education, for several reasons, we need supply teachers this should also be linked to a plan and, if conditions are suitable and as long as full-time students who are becoming teachers are adequately safeguarded, I would not be averse to exploring whether and how the Faculty could contribute.

Home-schooling. What is your opinion on this subject? Do you think parents should have teaching warrants in order to teach their children?

Till now all we know about home-schooling as a faculty is what appeared in the consultation document of the new education act. I would like to understand a bit better regarding if and how home-schooling will be implemented.

To a certain extent it is an admission that children can be trained or educated better in their home environment than they could actually be in our school environment, which is not necessarily a positive thing.

I definitely believe that one of the most important aspects of schooling is socialization. And home-schooling might actually prevent children from experiencing the reality they are exposed to once they finish school and face in the real world.

In principle I think schooling should be carried out by schools, schools that are properly licensed and with a properly-qualified teaching body. It is also elitist; home-schooling can only be carried out by people who have the means to do it. The man in the street lacks the cultural capital to home-school his child.

Should obligatory school hours increase since parents are working longer hours nowadays?

We have a relatively short school day in Malta compared to abroad but prolonging the hours children spend in schools just for the sake of it doesn’t make sense.

In many high-performing schools, it is known that teachers are under a lot of pressure because of time. They feel they cannot keep up, and have little time to carry out what they have been assigned to do, even though the curriculum has been reduced significantly when compared to the past.

Sometimes in schools we try and fit in everything, the syllabus and extra-curricular activities. When one can’t keep up, something has to give. With this in mind, I have no problem lengthening the school day if it means lessening the pressure on teachers and children.

In the past years we’ve done a lot of work in schools, in terms of resources and education, but we have done less so where assessment is concerned., and one defeats the other, working on education but not changing the target. Unfortunately we still have the mentality where what we’re doing in schools is to pass examinations, and that still remains possibly the biggest challenge that we have in our education system and is probably the most significant difference when you compare our education system to the ones abroad. It is immediately apparent when speaking to colleagues abroad that much less pressure is being put on students in order to pass exams, and parents are also a hurdle in this regard, many oppose the idea of changing it.

That leads me to my next question, people often criticize the Maltese education system as being homework-heavy, exam pressure etc. how do you feel about this criticism?

Yes it is. Look, when you get a 14 year old child who comes home after the first day at school and tells you they have to start working on past papers. Isn’t that enough to understand how heavily exam-oriented our education system is? And how excessive time and effort is being given not to education but to training students to pass exams? Of course one has to be trained as well in how to study and having study skills, but sometimes we just do that, send our children to private lessons and tell them to study their notes. That is not what education is all about, that is coaching. And we are very good at that, especially with high-attaining students, but education is not only that.

How can things improve?

In education, things improve very slowly I’ve learnt, unfortunately.  I have been in education for more than 25 years, I have dedicated my whole professional life to education.  I would have liked to see much more changing but I also can’t say things haven’t changed, for example the very fact that now we are giving more importance to course work, for one. Now it’s not just the examination that counts, but what is done in the last three years of the school life is important too, for example and SSC&P certification, which is more of a formative system than merely a snapshot at the end that sometime an examination merely provides.

If you had to explain what education is, how would you explain it?  

We see education as a fundamental birth right to attain the basic aspects of education, not only knowledge. Knowledge is a basic part of education. But education is also helping one form his or her beliefs and attitudes, it’s a holistic process and a lifelong process. The literal meaning is ‘to lead’ or ‘to conduct’, and that is the role of education, guiding a person for them to fill their full potential, whether this person is more academically-oriented, or is more interested in vocational work. Sounds simple but it is extremely complex in its own right.

 

 

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