Non-state schools resort to foreign teachers to plug shortage

A government proposal to engage foreign teachers met stiff resistance but in the non-state sector 81 foreign educators are already plying their trade, MaltaToday has learnt

A government proposal to engage foreign teachers met stiff resistance but in the non-state sector 81 foreign educators are already plying their trade, MaltaToday has learnt.

Independent and church schools have been resorting to foreign educators to plug staff shortages at all levels for a number of years, an industry source said.

Figures seen by MaltaToday show that in the non-state sector there are 35 foreign teachers in secondary schools and 16 in primary schools. There are also two foreign kindergarten educators and 28 learning support educators.

“The phenomenon of having foreign teachers is not exactly new in these schools and in some instances, they are a significant component of the staff complement,” the source said.

Two months ago, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo told The Malta Independent that the government was considering employing foreign teachers in specific areas to plug shortages in the public sector.

The proposal was rejected by the Malta Union of Teachers, the Union of Professional Educators and the Nationalist Party. A MaltaToday survey last month found that 55% of voters disagree with the employment of foreign teachers in State schools. Agreement ran at 39%.

However, the University of Malta’s Education Faculty had cautiously backed the idea, saying that foreign teachers may be needed to temporarily fill gaps in the education system.

The faculty had also urged the government to tackle the teacher shortage through long-term initiatives that would encourage more students to take up teaching as a career.

The demand for more teachers has been growing as the government explores more specialisation in the education sector, such as the Induction Hub for foreign children who do not know English and Maltese.

The adoption of different syllabus tracks in secondary school for the core subjects has also necessitated more teachers. At present, there are shortages in Maths, IT and English.

A spokesperson for the Education Ministry said the government’s first proposal was to rope in “no more than a handful” of foreign teachers for the Induction Hub, to cater for more students.

The hub currently has around 60 students ranging from primary to secondary level but teachers insist there could be many more foreign students with language difficulties who may require an induction course in English and Maltese.

“It is frustrating for a student to be in a mainstream class when he cannot understand and communicate in English or Maltese. But that frustration is also of the teacher who cannot do much. The Induction Hub helps mitigate this problem but it means more teachers are required,” the ministry spokesperson said.

She added that if the education system is to continue offering more personalised services to students, the demand for teachers will continue to increase.

“Contrary to popular perception, more students are studying to become teachers at university but these are still not enough and they will not solve the more immediate problems,” she said.

According to information tabled in Parliament, there are 5,555 teachers, 802 kindergarten educators, and 3,836 learning support educators in State schools. These represent an increase of 2,269 employees over 2012.

The government has an open call for teachers but according to the national minimum standards, applicants have to know Maltese along with English. This serves as a stumbling block for the public sector to employ foreign qualified teachers.

But while resistance in the education sector to foreign teachers is palpable, not the same can be said in the public health sector, where foreign doctors, nurses and carers have plugged serious employment gaps.

Speaking on TVM’s Dissett last week, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said he could not understand why there is a resistance for foreign teachers when the concept was accepted in a very sensitive sector such as healthcare.

The MUT had come out against the proposal, insisting that it would not accept government “taking the easy way out” and employing foreign educators to solve shortages in government schools while ignoring its proposals to encourage more Maltese to join and remain in the profession.

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