Bringing education into the 21st century

In the proposed setup, the role and function of schools have improved; schools have been empowered and democratised

Dumping the one-size-fits-all model meant that changes in mentality and teaching methods needed to be seen within the context of operational and structural changes
Dumping the one-size-fits-all model meant that changes in mentality and teaching methods needed to be seen within the context of operational and structural changes

Two days ago we launched a number of proposals to turn a fresh page on the structures of the education system. We want a more democratic, fair, sensitive and human structure to get the best out of our children. They are policies that will help the system develop, provide checks and balances and give priority to student needs.

Let me address the proposal which has grabbed the most headlines: homeschooling. What we are proposing is a situation whereby parents can homeschool their child through the services of a warranted teacher. It is not a free-for-all, and it is far from a simple process.

The proposed Commission for General Education (more about this later on) will have power to check whether or not the reason for the homeschooling request is a genuine one. Let me be clear – this is not an opportunity for parents with extremist and irrational views to keep their children away from mainstream schooling. 

The legislation put forward makes it clear that the Commission will have the responsibility to check that the request is a bona fide one, and not based on some militant philosophies. Moreover, the Commission will have to rigorously vet the process and quality of delivery. 

This type of education is already in use to a certain extent; there are a number of cases of children unable to leave home due to various reasons, usually health-related, so we are hardly reinventing the wheel. Once a request has been accepted by the Commission, which is independent, the responsibilities of the provider will be constantly monitored.

Despite homeschooling grabbing the headlines, there are a number of other proposals which, in my view, merit consideration and discussion. In the proposed setup, the role and function of schools have improved; schools have been empowered and democratised. When we said we would dump the one-size-fits-all model we knew that changes in mentality and teaching methods needed to be seen within the context of operational and structural changes, introduced in parallel.

The Education Regulatory Act proposal proposes the setting up of a new Commission for General Education. This Commission shall perform the tasks presently carried out by the Department for Quality and Standards in Education. Following stakeholders’ feedback, it was felt that the regulator needed to be separate and autonomous from the Department of Education, thus it is being proposed that this new Commission be set up. It is being proposed that all schools and educational institutions, including state schools, shall require a licence to operate, with licences valid for five years.

We believe this is important because each and every school has its own reality and central intervention should be limited to specific needs only. Each school will have added responsibilities (more than ever) to create its own pathway. This is a complete turnaround in terms of policy from a few years ago, and while we know this is a courageous step, schools will be supported in various ways. Whenever such checks and balances have been introduced in education we have seen a more efficient, responsible and innovative system develop over the years. Schools will not be the first public educational institutions to be licence holders – this system works very well in post-secondary and tertiary education locally.

It is also being proposed that kindergarten assistants and learning support assistants be regulated through the Professions in Education Act. This means that they will now need a licence to practise their profession in similar fashion to teachers. In fact what today is the Council for the Teaching Profession (CTP) will, we propose, become the Educators’ Council and KGAs and LSAs will be further empowered through increased responsibilities and more weight given to their roles.

The student impact assessment is also a notable introduction to the landscape – moving forward, all initiatives and policies have to measure the impact on students and how it influences them. We’ve also increased the rights and obligations in law for parents – we are proposing important legislation which seriously tackles those parents and guardians who refuse to understand the importance of an education and do not feel intimidated by legal action. 

The law presently states that in case of second or subsequent convictions the educational authorities can refer the case to the Civil Court and the Court can deprive the parent of his/her authority. It is being recommended that this provision be amended so that the Court can give any direction or order it may deem fit in the circumstances, and may even, if the circumstances so warrant, deprive the parent of his authority over the minor.

This is the type of legislation which has long been sought by school leaders who, in very rare cases, have to face parents who simply do not want to see their child get an education. Children being used as pawns in aggressive separation-related disagreements between parents, to the detriment of a child’s education, will also be dealt with in this legislation. We are adding rights throughout our proposals, but these also come with responsibilities – including for parents.

These proposals are currently open for consultation with stakeholders and the public – I invite you to visit education.gov.mt, have a look at these proposals and send us your thoughts on [email protected] You do not have to be an educational expert to submit feedback, on the contrary we’d like to have a wide consultation that includes all stakeholders.

The world around us is constantly changing and education has, for way too long, remained stagnant and not willing to adapt to new and better ways. We are proposing responsible, positive and measured changes to empower educators and parents. But our ultimate goal is to provide a better education system for our children and youths that is relevant to the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister for Education and Employment

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