On a political and bureaucratic level, the Ministry for Education has now become one of the most difficult to handle. The aim of this article is not to discuss the historical reasons that have led us to this situation but as one who works in this sector, there are a number of measures that need to be taken.
The first is to change the Permanent Secretary. Today, we have two Teachers’ Unions and though not always in agreement, they do agree on one particular point. They are demanding the resignation or dismissal of Permanent Secretary Frank Fabri. There is no other permanent secretary today, not even those who have worked or are working with controversial ministers, who have ended up in the limelight. Fabri did. But Fabri is not alone. The Minister needs to make a clean sweep starting from the top. Fabri’s immediate entourage and confidantes need to go too. Our system is set up to make this possible even if there are those who argue that Permanent Secretaries are there to ensure a smooth transition from one minister to the next. But Fabri is the man who has brought down a number of education ministers and this is partly, if not, the main reason for the massive failure in our current educational system.
In other words, Fabri and his personnel are the cause of the education department being in shambles and not functioning. They created a culture projecting themselves as the non plus ultra and a cut above others. As a result, many persons have fled the Education Department and returned to work in schools or in other Government departments. The Ministry of Education needs a permanent secretary who has a vision. It is useless to have one whose only interest is to be seen on television and/or be on social media.
While repainting schools and carrying out maintenance should be a routine occurrence, not an exceptional feat, this must never come at the expense of education per se. A permanent secretary should be one who appreciates those around him and who is humble enough to take advice from those around him and not impose himself. A permanent secretary should be one who considers the best interests of children and educators. He/she should be somebody who has had long experience in schools for it is in schools that our future generations are to be found.
Frank Fabri’s inheritance is the My Journey Programme. This programme is not working effectively and is ruining generations of children. Much money has been spent on labs, but there are still no teachers in some subjects. Moreover, students, who do not hand in assignments, for whatever reason, risk becoming indifferent to the subject. VET subjects have created an additional burden on SMT and VET teachers who have to fill in countless forms, and all this without getting paid.
We next have the perennial problem of the lack of teachers. Teachers have become a dying breed and no wonder. Having to face pupils and parents, who are not always appreciative of the efforts that go into teaching adds to a disheartening situation. There are also issues of misbehaviour, social issues and drug issues which are all taking a toll on the way schools are being run.
To compound matters further there is the issue of “inclusion”. This is a term that opens a can of worms. Whilst inclusion is healthy, one has to take into account those students with serious mental health problems or misbehaviour problems; students who for one reason or another do not want or cannot be part of an inclusion programme as is being claimed by the Ministry of Education.
While the Education Ministry had been insisting on inclusion, in reality, the My Journey Programme re-introduced streaming in our schools. Streaming had to be reintroduced because of VET and Applied Subjects. These subjects are a bone of contention. On what criteria are students in Year 8 (Form 2) being told to choose Applied and not VET subjects? How come students who are put into the Applied stream cannot move up to the VET stream? In reality, they are all condemned to continue studying in the same class and with the same students until the end of their compulsory education. For thirteen-year-olds, this is turning out to be disheartening. Everybody knows that pupils do not all develop at the same time and therefore, certain decisions taken in Year 8 are not always the ideal choice taken for them.
A worrying factor is the lack of options in the humanities in year 9: geography and history and also languages are practically disappearing. Something needs to be done otherwise, we risk having a generation that does not know any other language except for Maltese and English and most probably, this generation will not be able to speak and write proficiently even in these two languages as already is being seen from media reports on the concern of some academics.
Lack of discipline in schools is endemic. This comes from the creation of colleges, where students are condemned to attend their local area secondary school throughout their school years. In the past, problems of unruliness were universal in secondary schools but were less present in the Junior Lyceums. The latter had problems but not to the same extent as secondary schools. Now problems of misbehaviour are prevalent in all schools. Some schools have a catchment cohort which is destined to create more serious problems because of the concentration of disadvantaged groups living in the area concerned.
Thus, it is time for the Ministry of Education to rethink the education issue. Has the college system and co-education managed to bridge the gap in performance between boys and girls and between pupils attending different schools? Has there been any improvement in pupils’ achievements? Was there a decrease in the number of low achievers, absenteeism and in early school leavers? Was the removal of the mid-year examination a good idea or has it created further problems for the pupils themselves?
These are some of the questions that the Minister concerned should keep in mind. Continuity and a stable long-term vision are the keys to success. These ensure that no child is left behind in our educational system.