A new year, a new page

It is our duty, as parents, educators and policy-makers to continue working towards the betterment of the educational experience and provide more opportunities, and better access, for all

What vocational and applied subjects do is cater for these young people, and it brings us closer to the educational ambition of learning to know, to do, to be and to live together
What vocational and applied subjects do is cater for these young people, and it brings us closer to the educational ambition of learning to know, to do, to be and to live together

In the coming days it is back to the routine for schools as a new scholastic year approaches. Like New Year’s Day, the beginning of a new scholastic year brings about a fresh crisp of positivity and ambition for students.

Top of the list to look forward to this year is the introduction of vocational and applied subjects across all state colleges. This is a very exciting step for Maltese education and a very needed one indeed. We are not removing anything from the system in terms of the traditional academic subjects, but what is happening is the addition of new opportunities. This important milestone is indicative of the vision needed for young people in Malta: one where no matter your personal preferences or individual capabilities, you are given the opportunity to learn and grow those aspects.

Education was free but equal opportunity was not. Over the past decades the country lost generation after generation of young people simply because the education framework being provided did not cater for their personal abilities or way of learning.

Of course, our education system was successful to a certain extent, because it did cater for a considerable chunk of people. But it also left out many. They are people you know, friends and family. People who grew allergic to school. But they had qualities and knowledge, yet these simply couldn’t seem to fit the school system.

What vocational and applied subjects do is cater for these young people, and it brings us closer to the educational ambition of learning to know, to do, to be and to live together.

The introduction of these new opportunities still doesn’t mean that all the work is done. These also provide a new challenge to our educational output and we have to make sure the programmes introduced are of the highest quality and equitable. We have to make sure the experience provided continues to strengthen through time and is optimised according to the needs of the individual.

Challenges in schools

A lot has been written on teachers over the past weeks, especially on social media regarding all sort of things relating to teachers. My gauge is certainly not exclusive to Facebook as I believe face to face discussion and on the ground presence is more valuable than simple posts.
There are three main issues relating to teachers. The first issue is their financial package. The new agreement certainly is a positive step in the right direction. Teachers hadn’t receive a proper raise in 25 years. It was a shame and I think this was corrected.

Of course, I understand that a salary cannot be taken on its own. There’s an economic context and environment which encompasses it. I understand the fact that jobs in gaming and financial services are much more attractive for some in terms of salaries.

In reality it’s not just schools which cannot compete with them but most local businesses and entities. The truth is public sector salaries have improved considerably over the past seven years and the agreements already in place, both the sectoral and the public sector agreement, also mean that there’s a steady increase upwards in the coming years too. This is only possible because of a strong economy, which ironically is very much dependant on gaming and financial companies settling into Malta and generating wealth.

The second issue which I believe merits our focus is the workload. Over the past months a lot of effort has gone into projecting exactly what the workload is and Prof Mark Borg is doing an excellent job in this area. His work entails understanding what the structure looks like, why the increase of workload and what’s the net benefit of it all. Once this process is concluded we will look closely at the findings and recommendations. I believe that the main role of the teacher is his or her students and their learning path, and not paperwork.

Another important issue that I believe is on the agenda is the respect towards educators and the lack of discipline of a small number of students in schools. This is where the social element of education comes into play. For good or ill, a school is a concentrated ecosystem of wider society. The keyword that is often avoided here is discipline.

We certainly need more of it in different circumstances of schooling, and also within the family. We have to sensitise parents more to their responsibilities, because some teachers feel that children are sent their way simply so that the parents can have time to work.

We’ve introduced a number of policies over the past year and we’re in the process of strengthening legislation to protect better our staff members in schools.

On this Sunday morning I’ve started with the exciting and forward-looking measures we’ve undertaken but it is also important to acknowledge what can be done better, and what is being done to counteract that. I’m immensely proud of the work being done in schools, by parents and educators alike, for the future of our children.

Sometimes the media portrays in a negative manner the people who work in schools but I do believe we have some amazing people who face challenges and whatnot to help the younger generation grow and prosper. It is our duty, as parents, educators and policy-makers to continue working towards the betterment of the educational experience and provide more opportunities, and better access, for all.

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