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Of funds and creativity

A formal request has been filed to the Ministry for Education and Employment to discuss the formula used to allocate central funds to State schools. How will this better the current situation?

Marco Bonnici
6 September 2017, 7:30am
Some weeks ago the Malta Union of Teachers made a formal request to the Ministry for Education and Employment to commence discussions to revise the formula used to allocate central funds to State schools. This formula has been utilised for a number of years and our request was made in the context of the current negotiations of a new sectoral agreement for educators in State schools.

The ministry promptly established a working group, which includes representation of the union, with the aim to establish a new better formula to cater for the diverse needs of schools. The current funding formula, which is still in force, is based on a per capita model under which funds are allocated simply according to the number of students. This model, which served its purpose for a number of years, excludes a number of other very important aspects. Although student population is a determining factor, the number of employees in the respective school needs to feature as well due to the resources which are required.

Another essential consideration should be the upkeep of the indoor and outdoor facilities required, the age and condition of the school building and so on. Although the ministry embarked on refurbishment programmes, school visits carried out in a number of schools, particularly in primary, reveal that many old buildings are desperately in need of white-washing and other maintenance works. It is evident, as confirmed when discussing the matter with school administrators, that funding is not sufficient to ensure that the required ongoing maintenance is carried out.

There are of course other aspects that need consideration in the said formula, such as the educational programmes being provided. A number of educational programmes require dedicated facilities and resources. The number of subjects on offer, which for example would need laboratory setups, also requires consideration. Similarly, schools which provide specialised services, such as learning centres and resource centres, and which do not have the typical student-population of mainstream schools, have their particular requirements to continue to offer the best educational experience to students.

"The current funding formula is based on a per capita model under which funds are allocated simply according to the number of students. This model excludes a number of other very important aspects: the number of employees in the respective school needs to feature as well, due to the resources which are required"
The inclusion of all the above, together with any other factors as decided by the said working group, should ensure a more adequate distribution. It is hoped that this exercise will not merely be the allocation of different funding proportions to schools as established by new workings but shall include a financial injection to ensure that the needs of schools are addressed. This cannot be about reducing funds from school A to pass them on to school B!

Cultivating creativity

The Minister for Education and Employment, Evarist Bartolo, launched the Malta Visual & Performing Arts (VPA) School on 17 May. Inspired by the success of the National Sport School, the setting up of the VPA School aims to offer students, who have high artistic talents and potential, the time and space to fuse theory with practice, performance and exhibition. This school offers five art forms as the main focus of study: art, dance, drama, media and music. To my way of thinking, the arts do not only include the aforementioned subjects but should also, for example, include the various forms of literature and literary techniques, which I do hope are part of the drama programme. Students need to learn how to appreciate the vast literary legacy before they even try to interpret any literary/dramatic work on stage.

During the past years, State Schools Curricula focused on academic subjects and, more recently, on so-called utility subjects leading to established career paths to ensure sustainability and pertinence in relation to our country’s economic growth. Overall results of such a line of thought, actions and programmes were certainly positive and fruitful, there’s no questioning that. However, educational leaders and practitioners felt that there was still something missing in the State School Educational scenario, so to say a missing component in the educational provision.

For years on end, the visual and performing arts have been side-lined, catered for in schools as part of informal/non-formal learning. Elsewhere they formed part of the curriculum as separate subjects but still lacked due acknowledgement of many parents and students alike. The arts were simply deemed not worthy of any serious investment because they did not impact or significantly help to shape our country’s economy.

On the other hand, I can say with some certainty that students who experience the arts become perceptive and sensitive humans. Viewing masterworks in the visual arts, discussing and learning techniques, attending and understanding performances of great music, ballet and theatre widens young people’s horizons about how people behave in particular historical and cultural contexts. The arts take our students into an imagined world created by different minds. Such experiences will become part of their memory, the culture they inherit and the inspiration of their future creations.

The MUT hopes that this school will live up to expectations and will strengthen the potential of the Cultural and Creative industries by providing them with prospective high quality artists, who would have pursued their studies in the field and would be eager to start meaningful careers in these industries. Meanwhile I take the opportunity to wish all the luck to the VPA School management team and teaching staff and assure them the MUT’s full support as they embark on this journey together with their students. The team’s noble task is to ultimately cultivate in their students both the utility of the arts and their contribution to the quality of life.

 

Marco Bonnici is president of the Malta Union of Teachers

 

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