Betraying basic principles?
Education Minister Dolores Cristina, reacting on January 31 to Joseph Muscat’s commitment to a greater involvement of teachers, students and other stakeholders in the development of the national curriculum, accused him of “lack of knowledge on what is going on in Malta”.
Arguing that “a final document on the national minimum curriculum was completed last December and she, therefore, could not understand how he had spoken about drawing it up”, she insisted that it “is ready”, that there was “not… much left to do” and that it was drawn up “after extensive consultation with all involved”.
The most powerful answer to Cristina’s statements comes from the late Fr Peter Serracino Inglott. Speaking on December 17, 2011, at the end of the debate on the Nationalist Party’s Our Roots policy document – a recast of the earlier Basic Principles – Fr Peter claimed that the implementation of the national minimum curriculum (NMC) was “the biggest ever disaster” in education in Malta.
“Never in Malta did we have a situation where the central education authority left no space for freedom, originality and innovation for our teachers as was done since the national minimum curriculum was introduced”, he said. The Sunday Times described the “impassioned” intervention by the philosopher – a former University rector and adviser to Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami – as a “scathing attack” on the “education authorities”.
The thrust of his criticism was that the implementation of the NMC reflected a vision of society that leaves no margin for democratic consultation, of initiatives from below, especially from teachers. These were in practice left with “no space to teach anything other than what is included in the NMC”.
Speaking just over two years ago, Fr Peter argued that “such over-centralisation of education ran against what the Nationalist Party stood for”. Reminding his audience that the NMC of 1999 was intended as a set of minimum benchmarks of what should be taught in our schools, he said: “We are now justifying this abuse of the law by removing the word minimum from the title... and will continue to destroy education by leaving no space for that individuality and autonomy which in the Basic Principles we had declared should be the characteristics of each school.”
The attitude adopted by Cristina less than two weeks ago was condemned by Fr Peter over two years ago. The Sunday Times of December 18 observed that, as Cristina was not present on the occasion, “Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who spoke immediately after Prof. Serracino Inglott, said he felt the point was valid and promised to take the matter up with Education Minister Dolores Cristina”.
Did Gonzi, who clearly stated that “he felt that (Fr Peter’s)… point was valid”, actually take up the matter with Cristina? If he did, she failed to understand.
When asked if she agreed with Fr Peter’s views about the national curriculum, she replied with two mutually contradictory statements. Her first knee-jerk reaction was: “Naturally, I disagree with Fr Peter.” After which she also said: “I will have to see exactly what he said and understand it well.”
Thus, although she had not yet seen exactly what he said, let alone understood it well, she “naturally” disagreed with it.
Now, to be fair, pitting an angry intellectual heavyweight against an unprepared politician – in my view hopelessly punching well above her weight – is not the best way of understanding a complex and dynamic situation.
For a better idea of the issues involved begin by considering the views of my good friends Kenneth Wain and Carmel Borg, outlined in a report in this newspaper on December 20, 2011, wherein Wain speaks of “10 years wasted in education”, poignantly reminding us that “10 years wasted in education is a lifetime”.
But my point is another. What is unacceptable in a proudly European country in 2013 is Cristina’s assertion that there is nothing further to be said and done about the national curriculum and that, under her watch, the case was closed once and for all.
With all due respect, underlying this frankly asinine statement is a notion of finality that stinks of intellectual closure and rigid dogma.
While clear guidelines, stability and serene continuity are a must in education, if we are to not to slip even further backwards in European and other international educational rankings – a factor that impacts negatively on our economic competitiveness – we must constantly strive to develop the national curriculum. This means constant consultation with all stakeholders, first and foremost with teachers.
This was also Fr Peter’s real point. It was a point enshrined, thanks to him, in the PN’s Fehmiet Bażiċi (Basic Principles) of 1986, a document he considered as the fundamental ideological benchmark statement of his ideal PN.
Relative to this benchmark the mindset underlying the reaction by Cristina and other representatives of Gonzi’s PN to the Labour Party’s road map, is a betrayal of their own party’s Basic Principles.
Mario Vella blogs at http://watersbroken.wordpress.com .