The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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Of shortages, saturation and mobility: Mid-summer reflections on a new scholastic year

Sunday, 14 August 2022, 06:54 Last update: about 3 months ago

Marco Bonnici

Undoubtedly, the next scholastic year will bring about old and new challenges. During this mid-summer period, school employers are focussing on the required workforce to open schools and to run the scholastic year. Based on the most recent national directions issued by the health authorities, we should expect a return to normality in terms of health protocols.

This would ease the pressures on the increased number of personnel, particularly teachers, who were required to cover additional classes during the pandemic. A return to the pre-pandemic running of schools will, however, expose again a number of issues including teacher shortages, saturation and the increasing effect of mobility.

Shortages

The educational sector is not homogeneous and we err when referring to a problem or challenge as if it affects the entire sector. Speaking about shortages, we can expect that employers will have a number of primary classes without a teacher during the first days of the scholastic year. Similarly, we can expect a shortage of teachers of specialised subjects in secondary schools. Even if the Education Ministry provides reassurance that no students will be without a teacher, we all know that there will be last minute resignations, leave requests, promotions and other absences, which may not result in timely replacements.

Despite the repeated request of the MUT to the Education Ministry for projections to anticipate and pre-empt such situations, these are never forthcoming. We cannot underestimate shortages, particularly regarding teachers of a number of specialised secondary subjects. Traditional subjects, like Mathematics, English, Sciences, IT and the recently introduced vocational subjects, are being delivered to students despite severe teacher shortages.

Respective teachers of these subjects are making up for these shortages, with their teaching loads reaching absolute maximum. This in turn has several negative effects on these educators, being so indispensable and irreplaceable. For example requests to absent themselves for a period of time through unpaid leave or similar are not approved or else are being granted at the eleventh hour when a replacement is found. Similarly, primary teachers are valued to fill gaps but when it comes to internal promotional opportunities, respective calls are not being issued to avoid added shortages.

Saturation

Very often, we oversee the effect of saturation of the sector while focussing on shortages. While almost all students who graduate from teacher training courses are employed within few weeks from the completion of studies, most students who are graduating in ECEC (Early Childhood Education and Care) are not managing to find employment as kindergarten educators. Contrary to the situation in the later years of primary schools requiring more teachers, the kindergarten sector is offering very few vacancies.

Most vacancies are filled instantly due to running calls and considerably long lists of candidates who have been successful in interviews. Many candidates are not managing to obtain employment and are either unemployed, are “forced” to pursue teacher training studies to obtain employment as a teacher, obtain employment in childcare centres despite their over-qualification or else abandon completely the education sector to enter the employment sector. This situation is worrying as all the efforts to improve the qualifications of newly recruited kindergarten educators through dedicated courses may be in vain without access to employment.

Mobility

Mobility is not a new phenomenon in the education sector, but it has somehow slowed down in the past years. The uncertainty, brought about by the pandemic, may have paused plans of educators who were considering a change in school/sector or even changes in the profession/employment type.  Mobility plans are however no longer paused for a number of educators, who have resigned in the past weeks, requested leave to try alternative employment, requested study leave or else applied for the very few vacancies in post-secondary education. Others shifted from one educational sector to another, such as State to church or independent schools. As long as mobility affects the same sector, it is a gain for an employer and a loss for another and it may be healthy overall. When, however, the mobility results in leaving the education sector, it is a loss for everyone, particularly when the number of personnel shifting from other sectors to the education sector is still minimal.

These are only some of the problems and challenges being faced by educators ahead of the next scholastic year. Analysing what is causing these issues is also paramount in order to seek long-term solutions rather than just finding quick stopgap fixes and I hope to delve into some of these causes on my next article on the theme.

 

Marco Bonnici is MUT president

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