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Education: the lost decade

Draft curriculum aims for flexibility

Prof. Kenneth Wain is second from right.

Prof. Kenneth Wain is second from right.

Malta lost 10 years in the life of its education system because politics between the government and teachers’ union prevented the National Minimum Curriculum from being implemented, according to Professor Kenneth Wain, the present curriculum’s main architect.

It was this politics of stalemate between government and union that set our educational system back and not the NMC...

“It was this politics of stalemate between government and (Malta) Union (of Teachers) that set our educational system back and not the NMC... we wasted 10 years in the life of our system... and our students and the society in general suffered – 10 years wasted in education is a lifetime,” he said.

On Saturday former University Rector Fr Peter Serracino Inglott harshly criticised the implementation of the National Minimum Curriculum launched in 1999.

He said the curriculum was meant to be a minimum benchmark for what should be taught but instead it had been made into a cast iron dictum for teachers.

Prof. Wain said the purpose of the 1999 NMC – often criticised for imposing a rigid system – was misunderstood.

“The NMC is a general strategic plan that sets out the principles, targets and general objectives and the idea is to allow schools to work within the framework... it’s meant to be an empowering instrument... for schools to address the targets in their own way.

“The object is not to restrict but to ensure all children get their educational entitlement,” he said as he went on to outline the history of the NMC.

Carmel Borg, a co-author of document, echoed his colleague’s view, saying that despite the values of the , “many syllabi of the last 10 years continued to impose a teaching regime that left teachers breathless while privileging consumption of knowledge over, for example, higher-order cognitive skills.

“Such development is devaluing teachers’ role as intellectuals, relegating them to technicians... Unfortunately, little intellectual debate is informing local curricular developments,” he said.

Prof. Borg said the excessive use of peripatetic teachers (like specialised teachers) at primary level had promoted “atomisation of knowledge” and contradicted one of the high points of the – integrated learning – something the new framework seemed to address.

“Colleges have been hailed as a major structural reform promoted by the NMC. Unfortunately, teachers working within certain colleges feel they are being remotely controlled by the college principal rather than led by a school administration that is closer to their immediate teaching-learning realities,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Director General of the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education, Grace Grima, yesterday held a meeting with Prof. Serracino Inglott, in which he aired his concerns.

Dr Grima recognised that the lack of flexibility allowed through the NMC was a main concern across the board but stressed that the new framework (launched in May for consultation) aimed to address this.

“In principle what Fr Peter was saying and what the framework is trying to do are very much on the same lines. They respect teacher and school professionalism, they allow for flexibility and we started with the premise that the framework should not be prescriptive,” she said.

Dr Grima said that at student and teacher level, the concept of creativity and innovation ran across all subjects.

When it came to the level of teacher, school and college, feedback received during consultation showed that “flexibility, professionalism and creativity are concepts that need to be nurtured”.

The document would be adapted to strengthen these values. When contacted, MUT president Kevin Bonello said the union was actively involved in drawing up the 1999 curriculum. However, at the time he was not involved in the union, which was headed by John Bencini, and he was not aware of the details. Mr Bencini could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr Bonello agreed with Prof. Serracino Inglott that the way the curriculum had been implemented did not allow for flexibility in the classroom.

History

The idea to have a national curriculum was first raised in the 1988 Education Act by the new Nationalist government. At the time there was a centralised educational culture where the government imposed what had to be done in schools, Prof. Wain explained.

The first national curriculum was published in the early 1990s anonymously and without consultation. The 1999 document was done differently, following national consultation.

After the NMC was launched, then Education Minister Louis Galea set up a committee to draw up a five-year strategic plan for its implementation.

But when this was completed the MUT objected to its implementation over issues concerning teachers’ working conditions and responsibilities.

The union entered into a struggle with the government and neither side budged until 2007 with the “historic” government-union agreement.

In 2008 a process started to devise the new framework. The consultation process was launched in May this year and closes at the end of this month.

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