The Malta Independent 13 July 2024, Saturday
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'We need structures to avoid repetition of Panama Papers' - Evarist Bartolo

Gabriel Schembri Wednesday, 31 May 2017, 07:43 Last update: about 8 years ago

What would you say are the good and bad things that have been done during the last four years in the education sector?

The Alterative Learning Programme was a very positive step forward. Before this process came along, the fifth-formers who did not go on to sixth form or MCAST were lost. I think we have managed to offer them a good transition and I hope that this programme grows and reaches more people. We are so far reaching some 150 students and I feel that this is not good enough. We need to create more programmes for this particular sector.

What I feel was bad is the lack of proper reach. These are programmes that really work, like the co-educational system has, in fact, worked but there are still students who are lost.

The introduction of middle school was also a positive step forward. The government has also introduced accounts clubs and we have more than 800 students participating in them.

For the way forward, I think we need to make the system more enjoyable. Let’s reduce homework and heavy bags. These are small things but they make a lot of difference.


What do you think are the best proposals for this sector in the Labour Party’s manifesto?

The proposals are related to student and teacher well-being. We are facing a difficult time because of the changes in society. I believe that we need to address the size of the syllabus. Teachers are so busy that they simply do not have time to educate. When a student stops the classroom to ask a question, the teachers need to have time to discuss and explain. Schools are not a factory for exams.

I think the proposals for the removal of fees for exams, and for Matsec exams to be taken in the same school, are also of vital importance.


The education sector is facing a crisis due to the shortage of staff. What do you intend to do about this?

It is no consolation, but I do not think we are in a crisis just yet. I repeat, this does not justify or console anything or anyone. But up to now we do not have a crisis. We have a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, such as Mathematics and English. The average age of our teachers is actually lower than the EU average and figures show that the number of teachers resigning from their jobs is lower than in many EU countries.

The real problems will come in the future, with the process of the Master’s degree for educators, for instance. I think teachers need all the support we can give and we certainly need to review their conditions of employment.  


What about LSAs?

Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) are a separate matter. Just as happens with everything else in history, we first of all introduce the change and then we adapt it later. We do not check certain things before we begin offering a service and I think LSA training has to be more hands-on.


Looking at the past legislature, what would be the particular parliamentary session that you will never forget?

Definitely the session where we voted for Civil Union. I remember stepping outside parliament and suddenly being hugged by this woman. She said: Thank you on behalf of my son.” I had to stop and avert my face because I was in tears.


Let me take you back to the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools saga. Will Edward Caruana be part of your Ministry?

A big ‘No’. He has already been removed and I don’t intend to get him back in.

When it comes to work, I don’t look at someone’s political loyalty. Believe me, sometimes it is the Party’s loyal who crash you into a wall. I trusted people more than I should have done and I now realise that we need a change in the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools.

Throughout my career I have spoken repeatedly about good governance. Do you think I would risk something of the sort within my own walls? I was sorry about how things worked out.


I once asked you if you believe Konrad Mizzi should take Alfred Sant’s advice and step down. You said that you did. Do you still believe this today?

I stand by what I said. I believe that we need to create the structures to ensure such things never happen again. Panama Papers should serve as an opportunity to learn, to address this. We need laws and systems to protect us from ourselves. I take comfort in what the Prime Minister is saying: that we made mistakes but are willing to learn from them.


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