Teachers left breathless by reforms ‘rat race’, says union boss

Union boss says study analysing effect of student-centred reforms will show teachers are fatigued by pace of reform

Malta Union of Teachers president Marco Bonnici
Malta Union of Teachers president Marco Bonnici

Teachers are being forgotten in the raft of ‘student-centred’ reforms undertaken by the government, union boss Marco Bonnici has warned ahead of a joint study carried out by the government and the union on the state of Maltese education.

As the education portfolio passes out of the hands of veteran minister Evarist Bartolo, who also held the post in 1996 and shadowed it right up to 2013, the MUT boss said teachers had been left breathless by the scale of reforms.

“The student-centred approach, promoted for years as the way forward to ensure that all children succeed, went beyond the meaning of the coined catchphrase. The great emphasis on the rights and needs of the student all the time has led to a system that is now effectively bypassing the educator,” Bonnici told MaltaToday.

The union boss even said he had experienced various instances from ministry officers and employers who are “putting on their blinkers” when it comes to the needs of educators. “The excuse is always that they are there to serve students. In doing so, however, they are disserving and sidelining educators.”

Bonnici places the blame at the feet of what he calls “a reforms rat-race”.

“Instead of just talking about the current reforms race, we need to act fast and stop it. Schools are becoming a rat race of one reform after another, while feedback from previous reforms is indicating that the changes did not bring about the expected outcomes,” Bonnici said.

“And still we go ahead with more of this charade, which obviously includes changes that are supposedly introduced to modify previous changes which were proved unsuccessful. This must stop. Our appeal to the new minister of education is to stop the changes and analyse the educational system.”

Bonnici said teachers are already making up for many shortcomings in society, on top of the limited support many students get from home. “In fact, everyday we encounter several cases in which educators have become the sole reliable reference point for their students. Needless to say, this puts a huge amount of additional pressure on the educator in question.”

“Everyone – students, parents, employees, examination bodies, agencies, the media –think that an educator can act upon all demands made by everyone. The reality is that we need to take stock of these expectations,” Bonnici added.

The union now awaits the results of a joint study with the education ministry carried out by Prof. Mark Borg, which is expected to analyse the reforms last undertaken by the Labour government over the past seven years.

Bonnici even says Maltese teachers may be experiencing “reform fatigue” given the very fast pace of change.

“Based on day-to-day communication with educators, it is evident that both the system and educators cannot take more. The system seems to be in transition all the time. We are risking a collective fatigue, which would yield to more educators leaving the system and to an increased resistance to change. This will ultimately cause the system to stall.”

He said that change was necessary for education to reflect changes in the labour market, but this also puts a lot of pressure on authorities to impose changes on schools, which remains “the perfect vehicle to effect changes and promote initiatives”.

“I can predict that the early outcomes of the joint study, which is currently being carried out among educators by Prof. Borg, shall include a portrayal of the situation I have described. The test for the new minister Owen Bonnici, however, lies not in the effective communication of the outcomes of the said survey but in the implementation of its outcomes. The MUT looks forward to this and will be cooperating fully in the process.”