On Monday 16th January, the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) came all out to say that the teaching profession is ‘in crisis’. This statement caused ripples among educators and non-educators alike. What has lead to such a situation? An answer can be found in the same educational reforms that our teachers were promised, now and again, to be the protagonists of these reforms.
It is a known fact that these reforms were characterised by the introduction of more paperworks with the teachers being the leaders of this whole set of new bureaucracy. Besides teaching, teachers now have the added burden of clerical work of office and administrative related duties.
All this bureaucracy was done to sustain a series of reform. The race started way back in 2006 when the first colleges were set up. Then in 2011, there was the abolition of the Junior Lyceum exam and the introduction of the benchmark. Reforms continued to be introduced even after the election of a new government. A major overhaul since 2013 was the setting up of co-ed schools, and middle and senior schools. The setting up of co-ed schools was certainly rushed. First it was introduced as a pilot project.
After three months, this pilot project was deemed so successful that preparation began in full swing so that all colleges would be co-ed by September 2014. After that, there was the learning outcomes framework debacle. In a few years’ time, the My Journey Initiative will start to be implemented in secondary schools. This means that students in secondary schools can choose to opt for either an academic or a vocational pathway. This will hopefully lead to more inclusion. The ultimate result is that all Maltese schools are heaving under a lot of paperworks causing unnecessary fatigue as the local teachers have had no respite for years.
Now, the tablets electoral promise for Year 4 is being enacted. Last Monday, Year 4 students in different primary schools had to take their tablet to school to start using it. However, is the use of tablets really necessary? Has thought been given to their use and the ramifications? I am not saying that the tablets have no important place; what I would like to point out is that their place is supplemental, not transformative. Studies have shown that young students fare better when they have an emphatic personal connection. Tablets cannot replace teachers. Gaining knowledge should be from personal communication.
In theory, all these reforms were meant to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and to lessen the tension among students and teachers. The National Curriculum Framework (2012) offers space for the students to learn at their own pace. In addition, it promotes a seamless transition from primary to secondary school. It is a child-centred policy, in that each child is let to learn at his or her pace.
In reality this has unnecessarily increased the work for teachers. Thus, in a typical primary Maltese class, the teacher has to prepare several different handouts: for the bright, for the average, and for those lagging behind. Differentiated teaching is nice on paper but is it feasible in the long run? For sure it defies the basic principles proposed by Adam Smith, which has led to the industrial revolution. This educational system goes against the basic principles of the division or distribution of labour. Instead of having a group of teachers each teaching a mixed-ability class, each teacher in this group teaches one cohort of students who have equal abilities. According to Smith, this would increase productivity, which in education, means having better results.
It certainly has put teachers under a lot of pressure to achieve the impossible. With different groups to teach, teachers find it nearly impossible to explain a properly executed lesson for every group, in the space of one lesson. The fact is that when a teacher is tending to the needs of an individual student in a class of twenty-five, the other twenty-four are not receiving the teacher’s attention.
This makes one ask, is the implementation of differentiated teaching in class leaving the necessary results? Are the gaps between the affluent and the disadvantaged closing in? Or is the gap getting wider despite all the measures enacted in the last two decades?
The Education Department seems to be in a constant evolution. This is what is making the rank and file of teachers seethe with anger. This is turning away the younger generation from becoming teachers. Who wants to be faced with ongoing changes, riddled with an ever increasing amount of bureaucracy, and with a miserly pay, when they can have better prospects elsewhere? The teaching profession has a bleak future in front of it, indeed.
Image credit: Freepik
Antoinette Schembri is a PhD student at the University of Warwick, researching on homeschooling. She has an MSc in Educational Leadership from the University of Leicester, and MA in History from the University of Malta.