My Journey – the elephant in the room of the Maltese education system

By an educator

This site published the Facebook post that was doing the rounds on social media, wherein Frank Fabri regaled us with the benefits of the introduction of his brainchild – ‘My Journey’. Whilst he is all out in favour of this vocational reform, I can assure Dr. Fabri, that things are not going well as he has depicted them in his post. I would like to invite Dr. Fabri to start working on the ground to realise that he is living in a parallel world, which is not the reality that he has depicted. It is easy to pontificate about a reform that he has piloted but the crux of this whole debate is that he does not have any hands-on experience about the mess that this reform has created on a day-to-day basis.

I will not stick to theory. I will immediately go to the discussion of the daily problems that this reform has caused to our educational system.  

As Dr. Fabri rightly stated, a lot of money has been spent on vocational labs to ensure that ‘My Journey’ is in place. One wants students to use these labs, don’t they?

Rather than posing in front of cameras and making sure that his image is well-curated, as an educator who sweats daily with the students, I would have preferred to have a more hands-on permanent secretary, who would have been approachable enough and who would have seen to the problems that schools are facing nowadays.

It would have been better if instead of investing in buildings, Dr. Fabri had seen what educators needed, and why there is a teacher shortage. This teacher shortage should have been thought of when ‘My Journey’ was introduced. Now we are in the situation where we have labs which are fully equipped but no teachers for particular subjects. This means that those students who have chosen a particular subject, cannot study it because of lack of teachers.

Dr. Fabri argues that he has introduced nine new subjects which are aligned with the economy that Malta needs. However, it is pertinent to ask about other trades, like carpentry, plumbing, and masonry, for example. Are these subjects less equal than others? These are not taught as part of the ‘My Journey’ programme.

And isn’t Dr.Fabri leading to an utilitarian view of education? Does Dr. Fabri think that education revolves around the option subjects? Or is Dr. Fabri interested only in eradicating a humanistic education rendering schooling only to what the industry needs?

In year 8, students are encouraged to choose vocational and applied subjects. The word ‘brainwashing’ would be more appropriate. This has led to the demise in the study of foreign languages. Apart from the one foreign language which the students choose in year 7, no students in government schools are choosing a foreign language in year 9.

This can also be said for other subjects such as history, geography, and social studies. The number of students choosing these subjects is negligible, and in many cases, students are not allowed to choose any one of these subjects as there would be only one/two students opting to follow such important topics. Therefore, these subjects are not put on offer to students.

The pressure on students to choose subjects from the ‘My Journey’ programme is intense, and these vocational subjects are depicted in a nice way to parents and students alike. But many do not even understand a very basic difference that has been introduced in vocational education; that between VET and Applied subjects. To put the readers of this blog in perspective: both VET and Applied are vocational subjects but the VET subjects can only be chosen by the ones who get very good marks in their Year 8 annual exam. Thus, VET subjects are considered to be of a higher academic level than the Applied ones.

And before enacting ‘My Journey’, had Dr. Fabri thought about the logistics of it? I do not think so! SMT members who do classification and timetabling in schools now have a year group which is divided into two blocks, the VET block, and the Applied block. Has Dr. Fabri thought about the students who are in the Applied block and whose self-esteem is in shambles because they are doing an Applied subject and not a VET one?

Has Dr. Fabri ever had to phone parents to tell them that given the marks of their child’s Year 8 annual exams, he or she cannot take a VET subject, but must take an Applied one? I highly doubt this! Has Dr. Fabri ever confronted angry year 9 students or heard them in their despair when they come and disclose to educators that they have been forced to choose an Applied subject because their marks were low? Is that not a lifetime condemnation, Dr. Fabri?

Dr. Fabri must remember that Applied subjects are mostly being chosen by pupils from a working-class background. Is this not an injustice, that a student from a lower stream and from a particular background, is being denied the right to study biology or chemistry or any other VET subject, but has to study the same subject as Applied? Is it fair that students get to know in year 9 that their Applied subject is not accepted at Junior College but is suitable only for MCAST?

Students in the Applied block are doomed – and students in year 9 despair when, even though they are studying and working hard, they are still doomed to remain within the same Applied bloc – which means staying in the same class, for the rest of their secondary schooling. It is the case in many secondary public schools, that the students in the last class of the VET bloc get lower marks and are worse behaved than the first class of the Applied bloc. Has Mr. Fabri ever had to face irate parents who, when their children are in year 9 realise that their son/daughter cannot budge up the classification? I do not think so!

The reason why a student cannot go up or down to a different bloc is that the student is enrolled with Matsec at the beginning of year 9, and he/she starts to do assignments for the qualification that the student wants to obtain at the end of year 11. Once registered with Matsec and following a particular route, a student cannot change course.

And dear Dr. Fabri, can you please tell us about those students who do not do their assignments? Either due to laziness, absenteeism from school, or mental health problems? What is going to happen to them? For sure, they need to do their synoptic exams, but what if they fail it? The student would have already lost the chance to get at least an “O” level.

And what about students with disabilities? Does ‘My Journey’ cater to them? Contrary to what parents are led to believe, no. The Applied route does not cater to students who are in a CCP class. It is too complicated for these students to follow such courses. There is too much-written work for such students.

Lest anybody is thinking that I am making up these scenarios – these types of problems are common in all public schools, – I am stating this from experience. Dr. Fabri needs to be working with people in the field to realise the mess that this system has created in our schools and those most adversely affected are the students coming from disadvantaged families.  

Rather than taking us for a ride, Dr. Fabri, we, the educators, are here trying to detangle the mess that you have left Maltese schools in!

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