Malta's PIRLS score: uncertain pathway in education

Therese Comodini Cahica | Unless the administration forges a way forward ensuring good standards across the board, we cannot expect our system to score highly on comparative monitors

Upon the publication of the 2016 PIRLS report, this newspaper raised the alarm bells.

It was correct to do so. About the same time, another important report was published by the European Union, the Education and Training Monitor 2017. Take these reports separately or jointly and the results they produce are not exactly results to make us proud.

Put these results within the teacher shortage context and the latest collective agreement and I am starting to be convinced that the path for education is leading us nowhere.

As spokesperson for education, I have consistently sought to keep education out of partisan controversies. I will continue to do so and will continue to cooperate in the best interest of our teachers and students as I have done this week on the work-based learning and apprenticeship Bill. At this point, I can only fulfil my responsibility by expressing my concern on the results of these two reports and the circumstances in which teachers and students find themselves, in the hope that we can finally start to have an open debate on where our education system is leading us.

There doesn’t seem to be any plan to address teacher shortage. There are plans to provide supply teachers with access to training to bring them into the ranks appropriately. This is good, the system has been making use of supply teachers without giving our children the possibility of having recognised fully-trained teachers for a while now. The previous administration had undertaken to provide this and it is correct for this administration to continue that undertaking. But while providing teacher training from the Institute for Education may be a stop-gap for those already in the post of supply teachers, there do not seem to be any plans to reach the number of teachers needed for our system to work without having to abuse people willing to become supply teachers.

The first indications from the collective agreement over which teachers are up in arms seem to be that it will not entice young people to choose the teaching profession as a career. Teachers are complaining not merely because they feel cheated out of an increase which they were indirectly promised, but they are also complaining of the working conditions surrounding that salary. Most teachers who have spoken to me feel that these conditions will not provide them with the right environment to enable students to attain their best results.

Back to PIRLS and the Education and Training Monitor. So PIRLS has shown that at grade 5 our children are either good in Maltese or in English. The Ministry is happy with this, excusing this poor result by indicating that the assessment was carried out in Maltese. This pretty much baffles me. We pride ourselves in living in a bilingual country and the benchmark exam in grade 6 expects our children to score brilliantly in both English and Maltese. Then we come up with the poor excuse that our children were tested in Maltese this time round. The second excuse was that children who are not Maltese-speaking took the test in Maltese. Once again, for most children who come from EU and non-EU States, neither is English their native language. Let’s call a spade a spade on this one and say we need to do something for our 10-year-olds to be fluent in both our official languages.

Then comes the Education and Training Monitor. This indicates that we have the highest number of early school leavers in Europe with only a marginal decrease taking place between the three years 2013 to 2016 as opposed to the drop in the previous three years. For participation in types of adult learning we have actually scored less than we had scored in 2013. We are 17.5% away from the EU target for the share of students’ achievement in science. We are 10% away from the target of 40% for tertiary education attainment. Despite these results one administration after another has been investing heavily in the education system.

From all this, I conclude that only a fully inclusive open debate on finding solutions can lead to good results and that debate cannot remove educators from its core. The collective agreement has disaffected a lot of teachers and learning support educators. Unless in this legislature the administration manages to forge a way forward ensuring good standards across the board, we cannot then expect our system to score highly on comparative monitors. But the more time passes, the more students and teachers we lose.


Therese Comodini Cachia is shadow minister for education

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