The Malta Independent 26 November 2022, Saturday
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Teachers need to be provided with proper salary that reflects their profession – MUT president

Julian Bonnici Monday, 2 October 2017, 07:31 Last update: about 6 years ago

With another scholastic year starting last week, Julian Bonnici met with recently-elected president of the Malta Union of Teachers, Marco Bonnici, to discuss the mounting challenges facing the educational sector, including the growing shortage of teachers and the evolution of the current curriculum.

You were elected MUT President last June. What vision do you have for the union over the coming years?

We will always look towards strengthening the profession, but as it stands we are focusing on some internal MUT reforms. Currently, the union has two roles; a trade union and a professional body. The vision we have is that these two roles remain within MUT, and remain autonomous from one another.

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The professional body will fall under a foundation, which will give us the opportunity to provide training, publications, and material for students.

The union will be strengthened and will continue working on matters directly affecting unionist concerns. Over the last three months this has been the priority and we have taken care of over 600 individual cases.

From a collective perspective, we have three major collective agreements being discussed. The first concerns a sectoral agreement for teachers, which has been under discussion for a number of years. This has intensified over the last three months after regular meetings with the directorate with our target being to have reached an agreement by the end of the year.

We are also working on agreements for MCAST and ITS, while there are also smaller agreements concerning independent schools.

And have you met with the Minister?

Yes we have, but most of the work has been done through the directorate.

And the Opposition?

We have had contact, but we felt it would be better to wait till the new election of a leader to re-open dialogue.

It is no secret that the country is experiencing a shortage in teachers. To what do you attribute this? And what sort of plans does MUT have to remedy the situation?

There are two aspects, the first is retention. We need to incentivise teachers to remain in the job, as we are losing a lot to the private sector. This happens for a number of reasons, of course salary is a major issue, but it appears that the conditions of being a teacher (summer holidays and short days) are no longer as attractive as they used to be.

The shortage is vast, especially in primary schools. LSAs are also suffering, while there are shortages on specific subjects like Mathematics and English.

What we need to ensure is that the shortage does not affect other essential services. For example, we do not want to see a guidance teacher switch to math to fill the gap and create another in this essential service to students.

In respect to retention, we are looking to provide more advantageous conditions, with regards to flexibility and an improved salary. If we compare the salary to other professions, the gap is huge. We need to be courageous and ask for a salary that reflects the profession.

 

In your opinion, what should a decent salary for a teacher be?

As professionals, teachers are considered to be civil servants, and their salary is according to that model. However, there are a number of people who work according to allowances for duties that are above the teacher’s role. We need to look at a similar model.

We also need to be clear that the collective agreements that have been introduced throughout the years will remain, and new initiatives will be added to them.

There should also be more equality within the industry itself. Educators at Junior College or the University of Malta have a better salary, which we worked hard for. Why shouldn’t teachers at primary and secondary school aspire to have a similar salary, considering the amount of work that is put in?

Your predecessor, Kevin Bonello (above), was critical of the proposed Master’s qualification for teaching. Where do you stand on the issue?

Firstly, MUT is firmly in favour of the profession being pushed to a Master’s degree level, however we are insistent that should an MTL come in, then the wage of teachers should be reflective of the qualification.

We have also criticised that the timing of the proposal is wrong, especially since discussions to introduce an MTL came before a collective agreement had been achieved. We also need to see how this course will work, especially considering that people can do their PGC outside of Malta for a year and still be qualified for the profession.

The initiative is also poorly timed because of the supply issues facing the industry. As it stands, to keep up with the demand, teachers who were not traditionally trained in education continue teaching classes without doing any courses. We believe that over time, these individuals should get the same qualifications as everyone else.

We also need to see how we can incentivise young people to enter the profession, which is probably more difficult. We need to work at university and try incentivise the courses through possibly increasing the stipend for teachers. They also need to be given guarantees of employment and a decent wage.

You see, the current shortage is the backlash of the lack of employment newly graduated teachers were finding once they left university about ten to fifteen years ago.

 

Do you believe that school curriculum is limiting teachers?

The curriculum is very rigid from primary all the way to secondary school. When you examine the content of the syllabus, there is still too much emphasis on retention, which has no value in today’s world, where information is at everybody’s finger tips. I would say that it is probably more important to make sure our children have the skills to find knowledge and information.

We have a consensus at MUT and we believe that the curriculum should change, but how it changes is still up for debate. Assessment, which is determined by SEC, is our biggest hurdle. If there is a change in SEC, there would be changes throughout the educational system. We need to see how this will evolve, especially since our latest information is that SEC exams will go back to the schools.

We want to make it clear that we are open to different forms of assessment, as long as teachers are provided compensation if it means work will increase.

 

Results keep on dropping, with only 34 per cent of students getting their full Matriculation certificate this year, and one out of three A-level students managed to get the grades needed in order to gain entry into the University of Malta. Who is to blame, the students, the teachers, or the educational system?

Those figures, while at the level we have seen for a number of years, do not take into account those who do not pursue MATSEC and choose a different educational path, with more people going to MCAST or ITS.

Unfortunately, we cannot see the fruit of the changes initiated 15 years ago, through the introduction of co-ed colleges until next year when these students sit for their ‘O levels. Hopefully we will be able to see results over the next few years.

MATSEC’s system is too rigid, and throws away students that are not suited to an exam sitting.

Continuous assessment is a model we could follow. We already see that models based on formative assessment, like in the sciences which include practical work, are successful, and have seen even more improvements through vocational subjects.

 

The Minister has initiated an action plan to address assessment. Do you agree with the proposals?

We agree, but we need to examine them further. For example, with regards to the reforms in post-secondary school which we gave our feedback on, it seems that discussions have stopped and we now need to see the documents. There will also be discussions in the coming days over the education act, which will change the framework of education on the island.

 

Could you divulge further on some on the proposals?

In the case of post-secondary education, there are talks to increase the amount of sixth forms on the island, with the view of specifically opening one in the south of Malta. However, we need to see what sort of impact this will have logistically and on our members.

There are also talks to see whether MCAST and ITS could enjoy a university level status. We need to see what effects this could have the educational system, and what sort of competition it will create between the three.

We are also looking to introduce an autonomous board that will decide, along with parents and the school, whether the student will benefit from resource enterprise, which is currently solely in the hands of the parents.

 

There is the perception that a teacher’s authority in the classroom has diminished. To what do you attribute this, and what can be done?

Yes, it has gone down. I have just had a meeting with post-secondary teachers, who say they get told by their students that they will earn more than them once they finish. It may sound weird, but salaries have a big effect on respect and authority. This is another reason to increase their salaries, in order to elevate their status.

There are also discipline issues, which is a manifestation of the issues within homes and society as a whole. It is not surprise that students who speak to their parents a certain way, will treat their teachers similarly. There could also be frustrations that are manifested in school. To address these issues we need to first look at issues in the home.

 

 What plans do MUT have to address the challenges LSAs face?

We do have a shortage, and a lot of LSAs come into the profession without a course and complete it during their employment. This is something we would like to change, and we believe we are achieving this. There was a report commissioned by the government two years ago to analyse inclusion and what can be done better, there were a lot of recommendations, which now need to be discussed and enacted.

The demand is growing and I have fears, that there are students who do not necessarily need an LSA, so more monitoring needs to be done. Also, there are fears that students are growing too dependent on LSAs. If a student goes from kinder to secondary with an LSA, how will that person function without one after school? We need to ensure that periods of transition are introduced.

We also believe in improving their conditions through furthering their qualifications and pushing for it to become a degree.

Teaching is always evolving. How is MUT staying ahead of the game?

We were always courageous as a profession and we have always embraced change, unless it negatively impacted the work of a teacher. We have always been pioneers for change. For example, LSAs and inclusion was an MUT vision.

After-school programs are at a high cost, which limits mothers from working as they have to go pick their kids from school by 1-2pm. Will MUT consider lengthening the school day, given that we have one of the highest amount of summer holidays, or possibly making these programs free?

Regarding an increase in school hours, we are against it and will continue to be. When it comes to after-school programs and breakfast clubs, we should incentivise them more to use these services, as these individuals have high value to the Maltese economy.

The free school transport for all students will have an enormous effect on traffic.  What is MUT’s stance on the proposal? Should it be mandatory for all students?

The information we have is that while there was interest at the beginning and the feedback was positive, it appears to have cooled down. In fact, I have serious doubts whether the initiative will be included this year.

We do agree with it in principle, but we believe that supervision on all the transport should be ensured as we cannot have circumstances were a driver is with a group of young people, and no one knows what it happening.

Has MUT been in communication with the Ministry prior to the budget? Were there any agreements for the budget?

There has been no communication at all with the Minister. We are expecting that the yearly increase in education will be there once again. We are also hoping that the departments are doing their homework to ensure that the collective agreements, while they do not need to be included in the budget speech, are at least budgeted.

Should MUT be involved more?

We are involved though the forum MCESD, however I think the union would argue that we are not involved enough, as any other union would do. As long as we are represented on the MCESD we are happy.

 

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