Teachers say they are expected to do miracles under new educational reform

Teachers who spoke to MaltaToday have complained of an increased workload that assessments, which replace periodic tests, will place on them throughout the year

Education minister Evarist Bartolo (left) with the ministry’s permanent secretary Francis Fabri
Education minister Evarist Bartolo (left) with the ministry’s permanent secretary Francis Fabri

Teachers in government schools are livid at having to give up their summer holidays to prepare for a new syllabus and a new continuous assessment system, which will come into effect at the start of the next scholastic year in September, MaltaToday has learned.

The teachers are complaining of the increased workload the assessments will place on them throughout the scholastic year and are claiming that the ministry is expecting miracles from teachers, while ignoring their needs and concerns.

Under a widespread reform of the Maltese education system, government schools will see a new syllabus being introduced in September at Kindergarten 1, Year 3 and Form 1 levels each year until all levels subscribe to the new syllabus. Church and independent schools are not obliged to introduce the new system at the same time, rate and levels as government schools, but must ultimately lead students to the same Matsec examinations in four and five years’ time.

Teachers who spoke to MaltaToday had many misgivings about the new syllabus and system, mostly having to do with the extra workload they are expected to bear under the new regulations.

They also claim that they were only officially informed of the changes they would need to introduce in class come September less than a month ago, although the matter had been the subject of speculation for many months.

But, when contacted by MaltaToday, a spokesperson for the Education Ministry said that the new syllabi had been in the pipeline since 2015 and that the process of change had included broad consultation with all stakeholders.

“One constant complaint that comes up when we meet teachers is that the syllabi need to be revised, modernised, trimmed down to have enough time in class for what is called deep learning and get away from the rush of a hamster wheel style of education,” she said.

A Year 3 teacher said that the new syllabus incudes new texts, books and material and that teachers will now need to get up to speed on these before the new scholastic year.

She said teachers will need to prepare lessons, teaching aids, tests and assessments and insisted it was unfair that they were only given four months’ notice to come to terms with the new syllabus and that they were expected to use up all their summer holidays to do so.

“This reform is all in favour of the student, and in the authorities’
attempt to be seen to be doing all they can for students, they are running roughshod all over teachers and they don’t care,” Joanne* said.

The ministry spokesperson said the teachers’ complaints were misplaced.

“The Ministry has always defended educators against wrong accusations by some unknowledgeable quarters that teachers have it easy with lots of time off,” she said. “What we have always emphasised is that there is a lot of work which goes beyond school hours, which may not be seen by the general public but is crucial for the improvement and perfection of the learning experience and their method of teaching.”

The degree to which subjects will be affected by the new syllabus varies by subject. Sciences in secondary schools appear to be most affected, whereas Mathematics will see the least changes.

These changes will necessitate the purchase of new books and other material. And although teachers are granted €300 for class resources, this will not be anywhere near enough for all the class’s needs – including books, aids, printing, photocopies and other services – by the end of the year.

Still, it is the new continuous assessment system that is causing the most consternation amongst teachers.

Under the new system, 40 per cent of a student’s final annual grade in most subjects will be based on continuous assessment throughout the year with the remaining 60% based on one single exam at the end of the year.

Sandra*, a Form 1 teacher of Maltese, said that teachers will need to give each class eight or nine assessments every term. But each assessment actually includes three sessions – two preparatory sample tests and the actual assessment test.

“I have 50 students in my class, and I have to prepare eight assessments each term, each of which actually includes three different tests,” Sandra said.

That means that teachers like Sandra will need to prepare 24 tests each semester, and a minimum of 72 for one year. They will also be expected to grade 1,200 tests each semester, or 3,600 over the year.

“How can anyone expect us to grade over 3,600 tests in one year?” she told MaltaToday. “And let us not forget that the new grading system for the continuous assessments is not a simple grade out of 10 but is actually quite complicated and grading even one test will take a lot of time.”

Sandra and other teachers argue that it will be impossible for them to correct and grade that many tests, besides doing other work like grading homework and preparing lessons and aids.

“Someone lost the plot when they came up with this system,” said Albert*, another Form 1 teacher. “There is no way we can do all that, let alone do it while maintaining standards and consistency.”

Ministry reaction

An education ministry spokesperson denied that there would be so many assessments per term for any subject but did not provide actual details as to the number of tests to be given. She said that feedback from educators and students, as well as academic research, had shown that continuous assessment holds much more value to the learning experience than exams.

“The next step is for continuous assessment to be introduced, while the half-yearly exams are gradually removed, but the number of assessments per term will be reasonable and based on a balanced approach,” the spokesperson said.

But Albert said that, to add insult to injury, teachers have been told that corrections and grading of the assessments would need to be done during normal school hours and they would not be able to claim any additional hours for the work.

“As is, we already have hardly any time to sit down and grade homework or papers, what with staff meetings and students bringing their queries to the staff room,” Albert said. “All this new grading, or whatever we can humanely manage to do, will have to be done in our personal time, taking time away from our family and interests.”

And of course, teachers are expected to keep printed records of each assessment and test, increasing their cost burden if – as in many cases – they do not even have access to free photocopying service.

Free time is a luxury that many teachers do not enjoy much of particularly if, like Albert and Sandra, they also have a part-time job.

Both say they need the extra income from the part-time job to make ends meet, since a teacher’s meagre wage is nowhere near enough to last the month. Sandra says she is also currently reading for her Masters degree as she aspires to find better employment.


* Not their real names

More in National