The Malta Independent 14 July 2020, Tuesday

Teachers and the exhaustive educational reforms

Simon Mercieca Monday, 15 October 2018, 07:42 Last update: about 3 years ago

I was and still fully support the MUT’s strike action regarding the proposed Education Law. Having said that, I am also pleased that the strike was called off and a solution found. In truth, a solution could not have been reached, had not the gtovernment withdrawn the new Education Act which was already lying on the desk of the Speaker of the House.

This goes to show that, arbitrarily, government intended proceeding with this Act, despite the fact that simultaneously it was telling MUT and teachers that it was willing to negotiate. Yet the impression projected by the government was that it did not want to make changes to the law and was merely playing for time. In reality, someone, somewhere wanted to run roughshod over the teaching profession.

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It was only the threat of a strike that stopped government from continuing with its proposal. This proves the importance of going out on strike for any union. It is the only effective weapon that workers have to establish their rights; in this case with the State to see reason.  

The proposed Educational Act has a number of positive measures,  giving more power to teachers and offering better protection to both teachers and students. Therefore, why did such a bill anger teachers?

What triggered the dispute were those few clauses concerning the teachers’ warrants.  And the dispute arose from below. It was the Union for Educators -  a rival of the Malta Union of Teachers -  which sounded the alarm. I believe it is extremely important for one to analyse better the current situation.  The warrants were tackled, amongst others, in article 23 of the proposed law.

This particular Act is written in very bad Maltese. It is barely intelligible. This is a crucial point. One is here addressing teachers, individuals who by the very nature of their calling are capable of reading and writing. If those who are teaching our children cannot understand what is written in an Act, because it is badly written, how can they support the proposed reforms?

I had to read it more than three times, to try to understand what Article 23 entailed. What it meant was that those teachers who had obtained their warrant, prior to 2018, would still be recognized as in possession of a warrant. But the Act did not exclude them from having to comply with the same rules and regulations that were being introduced in this new law for upcoming teachers, including the infamous decision that teachers’ warrants would now be subject to renewal.

Therefore, even though Article 23 guaranteed that those already in possession of a pre-2018 warrant could continue hanging on to it, this new law was stating was, that in fact, all teachers were going to become mere temporary holders of a warrant which according to this proposed law, meant they would be required to periodically apply for renewal. No other professionals have this type of binding condition attached to their warrants in order to be able to work and earn their bread and butter.

I consider these proposed changes fundamentally flawed and humiliating for the teaching profession. Renewal was going to come at a cost and would depend entirely on the whims of a board. In theory, the renewal of warrants was linked to professional development. However, whoever came up with such an idiotic proposal obviously did not even consider the possibility that the profession would retaliate. Furthermore, on this particular point the teachers were right.

One must also take into consideration the fear regarding the modus operandi of the board. Here I am in no way suggesting that the current board that currently assigns warrants to teachers is not in earnest. But we are here considering a new legislation. One cannot and should not overlook the risks of personal animosities. There can be no doubt that the risk of one’s warrant not being renewed increases once one is subject to a process of continuous renewal in order to hang on to one’s warrant. Besides those empowered to grant them are, more often than not, subject to party allegiances and boards change from time to time thus destabilising the system even more.

Holding a warrant should be kept independent of professional development which is very subjective particularly in teaching. Incidentally, lawyers and architects, just to mention two other professions, do not have to renew their warrants. They graduate, obtain their warrant and hold on to it, irrespective of whether they continue to work in their chosen profession or not. Why should teachers be discriminated? Why are they always the ones to be used as guinea pigs?

In this instance, the government was caught on the wrong foot. Labour, I am sure, does not want to repeat the mistakes made in 1984 and 1997, where education is concerned.  Even though where education is concerned there is a tendency not found in other professions, of always trying to re-invent the wheel.

Teachers have had enough with too many reforms. They are not against them per se. Some of the reforms were needed but others lacked a coherent logic.

I still remember a colleague of mine from the Faculty of Education declaring that the inclusive system was destined to  fail. This was stated a decade or two ago. It was going to fail not because it was bad, but because it needed a substantial budget in order to be a success and the State will never allocate the necessary money.

What we have been experiencing in the past years were reforms and more reforms in education. These reforms were always presented as progressive. Yet, these reforms have basically landed the teacher with more work – often of a bureaucratic nature. This is physically exhausting the teacher. Already, statistics are showing that the teaching  profession in Malta is the one where job satisfaction is at its lowest.

Therefore, teachers are asking themselves:  Are these reforms needed? Are these changes in the education system being introduced for the betterment of our children?  They do not think so. Many indeed believe that the situation in education is going from bad to worse. The teachers themselves are accusing those pushing for these reforms of having barely ever set foot in a classroom and when they did teach they were considered not to be the ideal specimen of a teacher!

Meanwhile, what has even aggravated the situation further is the promised salary review.  There was a lot of hype by the government but at the end teachers discovered that for most of the teaching profession, the increase was so low that it was practically negligible. Those teachers on the lowest salary scale were burdened with the same increase of administrative work as those who received a higher pay rise.

Having said that, I don't think that teachers were expecting a much higher salary. What they were expecting was a better distribution in salary scales. Government negotiators were by far better on this point than those of MUT. One has to remember that this agreement brought about the split in MUT and the formation of a second union.  

The truth is that the legislator did not realize that this reform was going to be the last straw. Teachers are now rightly and truly frustrated. Government or rather its supporters made the mistake to paint the teacher’s strike as a partisan action. Once again, those who were making these accusations have been proven wrong. This strike action was not a political act instigated by the Opposition. The Opposition has nothing to do with it. This time round, the revolt came from below. At the end, this was not a victory for the teaching profession. This was a victory for all those individuals, who today hold a professional warrant.

 

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