Respecting our educators - Francis Zammit Dimech

Respecting our educators - Francis Zammit Dimech

“Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system” – Sydney Hook.

Undoubtedly our parents come first in making us the persons we are today. Teachers come a very close second. Most of us adults can remember at least one teacher who had a deep positive effect on our early formation. If there is one category of people who deserves our total respect for assisting our parents in our development, that category would be the teachers.

That is why it gives me great pain to watch the disrespectful way in which our teachers and LSEs have been treated recently by our government. As if asking LSEs to pay for their own training wasn’t already bad enough. In a report on working conditions that I have been tasked with within the European Parliament, I made sure to insert the principle that wherever employees need to undergo training, the responsibility to provide that training and carry the cost thereof should pertain to the employer as otherwise one would be impinging on the employees’ working conditions.

Malta has always taken pride in its education system, making sure that, together with the health sector, it retains pride of place in our development ambitions. A high standard of education translates into a knowledgeable community and enables societies to grow. It is an indisputable fact that countries that invested heavily in education, including respect for the educators, have produced the best crop of thinkers, scientists, engineers, artists, sports people, and the list goes on.

It is therefore upsetting to see the way education is being manhandled and mistreated by the government. Education and educators should be respected and valued as an essential part of a thriving community. This, in my opinion, is in direct contrast to what we have recently witnessed – a government that does not consult with its educators before taking major decisions which can have a direct effect on them and on the education system in general. 

We have seen evidence of this when, out of the blue, the government decided to change critical aspects of the Education Act. Notwithstanding the fact that the Malta Union of Teachers and the government seem to have reached a consensus, the government’s choice to try to steamroll over the union does not reflect good spirit – and that is putting it rather mildly!

Rather than introducing measures that undermine the status of teachers by threatening their warrant, or by diluting their role through the introduction of unnecessary controls, the government should be incentivising young people to follow the noble profession of teaching.

Earlier this year, in one of the reports discussed in the Committee on Education at the European Parliament of which I am a member, I had expressed the need for member states to find ways of attracting larger amounts of candidates to the teaching profession.

We are seeing a declining number of educators as each year passes. Incentives such as a wage increase and ensuring their safety and protection ought to be implemented. Regrettably, we are witnessing exactly the opposite. 

The same committee is currently discussing the future of education and how member states should incentivise educators to be able to face the new challenges that the digital world is presenting us, and how teachers should be at the core of this transformation.

This is how teachers should be participating in the future of our education system. Not by being reduced to mere members of staff of a bureaucratic system but by being key players in the transformation of an education system fit for a modern country.

When I recently had the occasion of meeting members of the Malta Business Bureau at the European Parliament, one of the concerns they pointed out to me was the skills mismatch they face when trying to engage staff that is knowledgeable about new advances in technology and other growth areas in today’s world.

As Yuval Noah Harari points out in his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, when it comes to education, we need to remember that in today’s world change is the only constant since humankind is facing unprecedented revolutions. Our educational system needs urgently to rise up to that challenge.

The ‘Education and Training Monitor’ recently published by the European Commission gives Malta highly worrying rankings in the education sector. We are at twice the European average when it comes to percentage of young people giving up early on education or on further training. We are practically at the end of the list as regards civic awareness, and towards the end of the list when it comes to how we place in mathematics, reading and science.

This is not surprising when we see that the percentage that the government is spending on education in relation to our gross domestic product is declining. 

We are still in time to save education in Malta and to give the teaching profession its due. I believe that the vast majority of the Maltese people still and rightly hold teachers in high esteem and are eager to trust them with the education and the formation of their children.

I also believe that teachers understand the need to actively participate in the modernisation of the education system and to take on new challenges. The ingredient that brings all the parties together and that can guarantee success for our education system is nothing but respect and trust.

Francis Zammit is a Nationalist MEP.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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