Since the onset of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of educators have risen to the occasion by honing their skills on the implementation of novel teaching approaches and tools. In doing so, the same educators have shown that they have a positive aptitude towards their profession since they firmly believe that they have been entrusted with our children’s education.

Similarly, school administrators have had to adopt the numerous challenging guidelines rightly imposed by the health authorities to allow the reception of students by their premises. Parents too had to carry their own weight by ensuring they were fully appraised of the latest online communication channels introduced in order to enable the delivery of online lessons to their kids.

It seemed to be working just fine, with all the cogs in the well-oiled wheel carrying their own part of the extra burden that COVID-19 imposed. But there is a fly in the ointment in all this, which is leading to a skewed playing field for Maltese students.

For instance, independent schools, where the MUT does not have much clout in terms of membership, were free to open their doors a full seven to 10 days before the remaining schools. Educators within such schools can avail themselves of the full array of teaching models, including live streamed sessions with different cohorts of students as well as through recorded lessons. Swing the pendulum to the other extremity, specifically to state schools, where the MUT holds full sway, and you observe that a good number of students who have eschewed a physical presence at school (due to health issues or due to an alternating schedule) have been left to fend for themselves.

In the latter type of schools, educators, so as not to fall foul of the MUT’s directives, simply digitally send handouts to the same students, who are compelled to rely entirely on their parents for any form of explanation of the content of the same handouts. Is the MUT comfortable with such a predicament? Does it feel that it ensuring a good service to the affected students?

It is not up to the MUT to decide how Church schools make use of the limited space they have- Alan Deidun

Church schools are the third kettle of fish and fall somewhere between the two other stools. Such schools have been deemed as holding sufficient space to contemporarily host their entire student cohort.

As a result, they have come up with a number of innovative ways through which to maximise their space constraints, including placing students on an alternating presence/absence roster. For these to work, full flexibility by all actors is necessary since, as the maxim goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. Parents, school administrations and even the majority of educators understand this and they play ball. But a small minority of educators within these schools are adamant that they wish to stick to their orthodox teaching approaches since learning new techniques needs time and effort, resorting to the MUT with their grievances.

In doing so, the same educators demonstrate a lack of collegiality with their peers and school administration who are bent on making ends meet in such difficult times.

The MUT responds by issuing a set of unfeasible and unwieldy directives, which are literally painting the same Church school administrations into a corner. Some of these directives even preclude the recording of lessons, since extra payment for educators recording their lessons outside of school hours is being demanded by the MUT, with the same union assuming a bullish attitude towards the same schools through the issuance of ultimatums.

One has to note here that a call issued by the Education Ministry for educators interested in being engaged for such paid lesson-recording did not manage to recruit the expected uptake and had to be reissued more than once. So does the MUT have any feasible alternatives in hand here for such a predicament?

This is a downright wrong stance by the union, on numerous counts. Firstly, the vast majority of educators within Church schools are, in fact, against the same union stance.

Secondly, the extraordinary circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that each of one us, within different workplaces, has had  to step out of one’s own comfort zone and to adapt by passing personally through a steep learning curve. Demanding payment for this is ethically wrong, especially when so many have had to face pay cuts or even layoffs in the past few months.

Thirdly, on a pragmatic basis, clipping educators’ remote teaching wings effectively shafts those students who most rely on such modes of teaching.

Fourthly, not all lesson-recording needs to take place outside of school hours, with a number of Church schools thinking outside the box and providing adequate facilities for their teaching staff within their own premises to achieve such a task.

Finally, it is definitely not the MUT’s prerogative to decide as to how Church schools make use of the limited space they have. This is to be jointly decided upon by the same schools and public health authorities.

It is indeed paradoxical that, on the one hand, the MUT constantly professes it is in favour of online teaching while, on the other hand, it seeks to impose a barrage of constraints on Church schools when it comes to putting online teaching in practice.

The MUT, through its intransigence and through its bid to speak out for that small minority within its ranks which does not wish to adapt, is alienating the vast majority of conscientious educators who are at odds with its directives. Such intransigence is also a disservice to the students who deserve a proper education, especially to the most vulnerable ones staying at home, and to their working parents who are already struggling with the economic repercussions of the pandemic. This, in turn, is fuelling a non-level playing field for local students, between the haves and the have-nots.

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