“Talimt niktep taht mintof” … do you remember this? It was the slogan in butchered Maltese that the PN used to flaunt in order to characterise the state of education under the Labour Government.
25 years later, the Maltese public has a right to seek the proof of the Nationalist pudding that is being served. I will not go into the labyrinthine game of statistics: sufice it to say that we are rating 25th (the third from last) among European States, with 36% of our emergent population being functionally illiterate. Actually, I believe that the real rate of illiteracy is higher … because knowing how to stammer your way through a written text is only a sorry excuse for literacy.
Does the PN acknowledge where we stand? Do PN sympathisers consider these figures a propaganda spin orchestrated by Labour? Well, apart from the simple fact that these figures are not coming from Maltese sources, I would advise readers to listen to the voices of the PN itself. Go to Ms DCG’s blog. You will find this gentle lady patronisingly berating her readers and correcting their English. Funny thing is:!Ms DCG is herself a product of Mintoff’s administration (sort of …)! These people who are blogging are most likely the fruit of the educational system of the past 25 years. Let’s give them a breather … at least a good number of them are. So, when Ms DCG takes her interlocutors to task about their English, she is passing judgement on the Government she so supports. Tsk tsk tsk!!!
I mean, the PN can now hardly say that the educational system is what it is because of Labourite policies. They can proudly claim ownership of that not-so-insignificant slice of population which is illiterate. The PN can also rightfully be credited with the horrific percentages of students who do not sit for even the basic examinations at the end of Secondary Education. The fanfares which announce the number of students who take up Higher Education at Sixth Forms and MCAST fade into silence when one scrutinises the dropout rate at the end of the first year. Those parents whose children graduated only to find that they have been enticed into dead-end courses leading to nowhere (aha! That’s where they got the idea for the bridge!) feel the bitterness of eventual unemployment or under-employment of their erstwhile jubilant graduates. They realise that the educational system in Malta is a disassembled jigsaw puzzle which nobody has ever seen complete, and which nobody is sure of being able to complete. The passage from education and instruction to employment and stable integration into society is far from guaranteed.
And yet, the educational authorities and the major administrators of the system speak of wide-ranging reforms, of decentralisation, of innovation in teaching, of education for the future. High flown words which resound like drums, and are very often just as hollow.
Can we really expect these policies to come to fruition? In this case, I beg to differ with the adage and say that the proof of the pudding is not in the eating but can be perceived in the making. Too many cooks and too little foresight. A lot of planning on paper, a lot of so-called consultation … and too many stakeholders in the educational process who do not really know what is happening.
With the so-called decentralisation process leading to the establishment of colleges, we now have a proliferation of prima donna politics: with educational leaders trying to outshine each other as all these cooks dance around the all too many pots which should actually be contributing to the same stew.
We are working on a concept which was imported crudely from abroad, justified by a policy document published in 2005 called “For all children to succeed” (a slogan which seems to echo the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 in the Bush administration).
The recipe so naively expressed in “For all children to succeed” was built, on the one hand, on structural patterns observed in the UK, and on the other, on fallacies. It stated, for example, that the educational system in Gozo was already experiencing this college style system and that this was a success. There was no analysis of this success. The document offered alternative patterns which fell by the wayside. The first implementation in Malta, the Kullegg San Benedittu, happened to be the then current Minister of Education’s constituency. Quasi-concurrent implementations were initiated in the Cottonera area and in Qormi. No report has ever been made public about the experimentation carried out in these schools. The opinion of the teaching profession is practically unanimous: the changes implemented were catastrophic. Not because the principles themselves were wrong, but because the implementation was fragmented and the stakeholders ill-informed and not on board, including the fact that teaching staff were not adequately prepared for the pedagogical implications of these reforms.
The follow-up has continued to be a continuum of rule-of-thumb day-by-day administration which does not examine its own performances, and wants to play football with more than one ball in the field, where nobody wants to play goalkeeper and everybody wants to wear the number 11. We are today in a situation where we are concentrating more on what wattage our lightbulbs should be than the shell of the building itself. I am referring to the fact that while syllabi are being drawn up at the express orders of the top, the basic document outlining the principles which should be guiding these syllabi is not yet complete. At the same time, to be fair, valid reforms have been launched, but with a “but”. The problem is that too many were initiated simultaneously and at practically all levels. The result is that today teachers are suffering from a sort of reform fatigue, where they are asked to take on new issues before they have assimilated (or even been convinced of the validity) of the previous ones.
One ironic situation is that after the way the PN swept everything Labour off the board, in a gesture very typical of the greater arrogance to come, the vehement critics of Labourite policies have today revamped , with a generous coat of “decentising” (sorry for the atrocity) paint, some of those same ideas. When the havoc in experimental schools reached crisis levels, with teachers breaking down and unable to deliver any decent amount of teaching, the vocational training which was so unceremoniously dismantled by the Nationalist government was sought again. After all the hullabaloo about the “numerus clausus” (which I disagree with, preferring to offer students an informed choice, which is not the case today), there is surreptitious talk of “capping”. There is even talk of a GOOD (because it is PN) version of the “repeater class” which practically cost Labour the last elections.
The other solution which provides the illusion that our education is state-of-the-art is of course the building of schools. Even while these new institutions rise, their earlier siblings are creaking under the weight of unforseen numbers of students (look at Santa Lucia, San Benedittu and Handaq). In this case, the lessons of huge school populations have not been learned. The panic to implement change is riding roughshod over the students who are today being shoved like pawns across the island while waiting for their area school to be ready.
It is sad that what while we are working for diversity and autonomy, which are good principles in themselves, the Government is conveniently forgetting its ultimate responsibility for the educational system and there is no central body which ultimately unites the stakeholders. There is, indeed, an (absent) Minister who has only been seen in Floriana once on a Christmas eve. The real educators only see the Minister on TV.
It is sad that while the system is going for decentralisation, nobody has asked whether there is enough residual centralised strength aimed at supporting what has now become a smattering of fiefdoms, and there is not enough investment in monitoring the outcomes of the decisions taken by these little barons. The king emits the decree but who is following this up?
If Labour wishes to convince teachers, Heads of School, educational administrators and other stakeholders that Education stands high in its priorities, it must do the unthinkable: just as Joseph Muscat has committed to lowering bills, he must also commit to a stated investment in time, human and financial resources, as well as to a functional overarching mechanism of planning and coordination of the running of the educational system.
With all due respect to Labour’s prospective Minister of Education: if we are simply going to replace one pope with another, without pumping significant resources into the system, their is not very chanse of that anythink will changes.