The Malta Independent 22 November 2019, Friday

Updated (2): Education Ministry stands ground on exams; MUT fires back, declares industrial dispute

Albert Galea Tuesday, 4 June 2019, 10:20 Last update: about 7 months ago

The Education Ministry will be standing its ground against the Malta Union of Teachers in the current dispute with regards to maths and Maltese examinations, with Education Minister Evarist Bartolo calling on the union to reconsider its position.

Bartolo appealed for all those in the education sector to move forward with the spirit of cooperation for the common good, noting that it is not right that students and parents are suffering in this situation.

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He called the action that the MUT has taken “disproportionate” as it was affecting all students and appealed to them to reconsider their position in light of the fact that the number of teachers who have this maximum load of lessons is indeed exceptional.

Bartolo said that the ministry is in constant contact with the MUT and is open to a meeting with them as well. Asked what would happen if the MUT insist on their directives, Bartolo said that the ministry will keep looking for every solution that they can possibly find.

Speaking in a press conference on Tuesday morning, Education Ministry permanent secretary Francis Fabri said that there were only 3.5% of maths and Maltese teachers who had a teaching load of 25 lessons per week, a rate which he defined as being “exceptional” and hence as per the sectoral agreement signed between the Ministry and the MUT.

To illustrate this point, Fabri quoted the relevant clause of the said sectoral agreement; “teachers at secondary schools: the teaching load will consist of a maximum of 24 lessons + 1 covered lesson.  Provided that in exceptional cases arising out of timetable exigencies, the teaching load will consist of a maximum of 25 lessons.”

This sectoral agreement, Fabri said, had made sure to see that teaching conditions are improved, and stipulated points such as a reduction of contact hours with students, a reduction in schoolchildren per class and a reduction in the maximum number of lessons per week from 26 to 25.

Fabri said that the ministry and the directorates concerned had taken action in various manners to see that the teaching load of Maltese and maths teachers is reasonable and as low as possible.  These measures include a year-round call for new teachers, to the point that the ministry has already engaged 14 new Maltese teachers and six new maths teachers for the next scholastic year.   

Fabri noted that from the reconciliation meetings between the Ministry and the MUT, it became clear that the 3.5% of teachers having to carry out the maximum load of lessons are exceptional cases, as per the sectoral agreement.

He also made mentioned of 17 proposals that the MUT had sent the ministry last April on how to encourage more youths to move into the teaching profession, and said that the ministry had committed to carrying out the 10 proposals which directly depend on them straight away and would be meeting with other relevant authorities later this month to push for the other seven points to be implemented as well.

It is with all this in mind, Fabri said, that the Ministry has chosen to stands its ground and say that they would like the exams to be done for the students.

Ministry is trying to acquire exam papers from Curia even though way in which subjects are taught and assessed are different – MUT

The Education Ministry is trying to acquire examination papers from the Curia even though the way in which Maths and Maltese as subjects are taught and assessed is different than in state schools, the MUT said in a statement this afternoon.

“In an attempt to try and acquire examination papers in a hurry, the Ministry is trying to replicate what happened in half of the mid-yearly exams when students were given exam papers which contained questions which were not in the syllabus, papers which were copied from previous years and which were not adept to the student’s levels”, the MUT said.

“In a communication which was sent to Church schools by the Curia, and which arrived at the MUT, it is clear that the Ministry for Education is now using the Curia to acquire Maltese and Maths exam papers which were compiled by teachers in Church Schools for their students so that the papers are used for students in state schools”, the Union said.

They noted that not only was this manoeuvre an attempt to take the union for granted, but it was a disservice towards students because it is a known fact that the way in which the subjects are taught and assessed at Church schools vary immensely from the way in which they are handled at State schools. 

“Instead of doing all it could it could to address a situation which has been ongoing since September 2018, the Ministry is trying to use teachers at church schools to address this failure in question; a failure which has resulted solely from the ministry dragging its feet and not taking action to find a solution.” 

The MUT said that it condemns this behaviour and announced that it had declared an industrial dispute with the Education Ministry. 

The union also gave a directive to its members in all schools in Malta and Gozo for exam papers not to be passed to the Curia or to the Ministry.  

Till then, the MUT reminded that its behaviour is a result of the situation which, if it is not addressed in the coming months and years, is going to get worse. The Union predicts a lack of teachers not only in Maltese and Mathematics but in other subjects as well if the situation is not addressed.

“If the situation is addressed it would be for the benefit both for teacher and, in the end, for the education of students.”

UPE says that education department had been warned about situation for months, but swept it under the carpet

In a statement, the UPE spoke of its worry about the present situation in the education department, and about the excessive pressure and overly large load that is being put on teachers, LSEs, KGEs, and, particularly today, on Maltese and Mathematics teachers.

The UPE said that it has been defending Maltese and maths teachers since last September and the reaction of the department was to take the union to court. Consequently, the UPE’s arguments have been proven correct, they said.

The suffering that the students are going through today is coming from the fact that during the negotiations for the last collective agreement, the department was too hard and needlessly aggressive and those who were protecting the interests of educators back then were too weak, the union said.

“The UPE has been warning the department of a lack of maths and Maltese teachers for months and the department swept it under the carpet till today without doing anything about it.”

“The present conditions are because of the stubbornness of certain people in the department which has meant that the union has no other course than industrial action”, they said.

The writing is written clearly on the wall and the conditions of educators today are not encouraging youths to engage into this profession, meaning that there are going to be even more shortages than today in the future, the UPE said.

The UPE wrote that it firmly believes that the solutions are there and said that it could not understand why feet are being dragged to the ultimate detriment of both students and educators. 

The union said that it was ready to sit down with Minister Evarist Bartolo to solve the problems that the profession is going through at the moment, problems which it will feel sooner than later. 

They also said in their statement that the loads on educators need to be reduced as soon as possible as otherwise the problems will continue to get worse. 

PN blames government

The PN, in a statement, blamed the government's lack of planning for the situation, and said that students are paying for the government's incompetence. The PN said that the government needs to stop brushing off its responsibility and take serious decisions to help bring the education sector out of the crisis the government itself took it in to.

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