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Education reform steadily on course

The article entitled Lecturers Punch Holes In Education Reform Document (December 21) was clearly based on extracts from a report, drawn up in February 2009 by members of the Department of Educational Studies, which is one of the departments in the Faculty of Education, University of Malta.

The report was one of the last feedback documents received during the consultation period following the launch of the document Transition From Primary To Secondary Schools In Malta in November 2008. It is important to note that the opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the position of the Faculty of Education as a major stakeholder. Indeed, several other reports were received from the other departments and also from individuals within the faculty, which are not reflected in the December 21 article.

In many ways, the article is anachronistic. It completely ignores the many positive developments that have taken place since the document Transition From Primary To Secondary Schools In Malta was published. For example, it makes no reference to the positive working relation between the Education and Church authorities, which led to the historical decision when both the Minister of Education and the Archbishop's delegate for Church Schools announced the simultaneous removal of the Junior Lyceum and Common Entrance examinations as from 2011. Nor does it make any reference whatsoever to the extensive training programmes that all primary school teachers are undergoing year after year enhance their range of classroom strategies.

The main message emerging from the extensive consultation process was that the reform is timely and necessary. This view was shared by the major stakeholders including several departments of the Faculty of Education and the Maltese Episcopal Conference. The following extracts illustrate this view:

"This is a bold document and a positive move in the right direction and tries to solve one of the major problems that has been plaguing our educational system for years" (Department of Mathematics, Science and Technical Education, Faculty of Education).

"The removal of the highly competitive Junior Lyceum examination with all its ramifications is definitely a welcome proposal, which offers better coherence with the vision of an inclusive education policy" (Department of Primary Education, Faculty of Education).

"...we wish to emphasise our agreement with the proposition of reducing, as much as possible, possibly eliminate altogether, the staccato system of transition that is experienced by the vast majority of our students" (Maltese Episcopal Conference).

All the feedback received was analysed and written up in a feedback report presented to the government. A synthesis of the feedback was reported on The Sunday Times (May 10).

The article erroneously states that "streaming will be removed and replaced with a concept called setting, where students will be grouped according to their strengths and weaknesses in different subjects, creating mixed-ability classrooms".

At primary level, specifically in Year 5 and Year 6, all classes will be mixed-ability classes as has been the case from Year 1 to Year 4 for several years. As from September 2009, students who up to Year 4 experienced mixed-ability classrooms were the first to experience non-streamed classes in Year 5 and will proceed with this organisational system in Year 6 next year.

Recent feedback from the different colleges shows that the support of different educational stakeholders to this phased-in approach to the elimination of streaming is increasing, even among those who initially had reservations. This new reality has led to a number of teachers working in a collegial manner in their preparation of lessons and resources to cater for differentiated teaching and learning.

It is important to clarify with readers that the transition report was drafted after extensive and intensive consultation with various stakeholders, including the Faculty of Education. Once the report was concluded, the faculty was once again consulted with the final version and the feedback given by the different departments was taken into consideration when making the final decisions and when developing the strategic implementation plan.

The article quotes the lecturers of the Department of Educational Studies as stating that care should be taken to address the wide national system of education. Stakeholders who follow closely the developments in the education sector in Malta would immediately note that the removal of streaming, the Junior Lyceum and common entrance examinations are but a part of the entire reform.

These developments cannot be separated from the introduction of a number of important initiatives: the core competencies policy, professional development for educators, major recruitment in the education sector, especially focusing on student service, the setting-up of learning support zones and nurture groups, plans for the introduction of vocational subjects at secondary level, the building and refurbishment of schools, the investment in eLearning; the review of the school audit system and the special schools reform.

By no stretch of the imagination could these developments have resulted from arguments that "border on the pathological", as referred to in the article. Each and every decision taken by the Education directorates, including the removal of streaming and selective examinations, are but links in an entire chain of reforms that has at its heart the aim of providing quality education for all children. While the support of different stakeholders is always welcome, we would like to reassure the public that the educational reform is steadily on course.

The author is director of Quality and Standards in Education.

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