The government on Tuesday was warned that engaging foreign teachers to plug a shortage in certain subjects was a quick-fix solution which could have “irreparable consequences” on the educational system and students.

The Union of Professional Educators also raised questions on the employment conditions which would be offered after noting that the Education Ministry had engaged “trainers” on short-term contracts with no right for sick leave or other social benefits.

The union was reacting to remarks made by the Permanent Secretary within the Education Ministry, Frank Fabri, who told TVM that a call would be issued for foreign supply teachers. The move is meant to address shortages in Mathematics, English and Information Technology.

Addressing a press conference, UPE CEO Graham Sansone insisted that the union had nothing against the engagement of foreign teachers as long as this was done in an orderly fashion. 

But, he said, this call would likely attract non-EU nationals, as Malta’s wage levels in the educational sector were among the lowest in the EU.

“Bringing over foreign teachers and throwing them at the deep end could result in a culture shock as they would struggle to communicate and be completely alien to the Maltese culture and educational system,” he said.

Although these foreign teachers would be required to study Maltese over a number of years, he questioned what would happen in the meantime.

Mr Sansone also commented on the qualifications being sought by the ministry, in view of the fact that supply teachers need not have training and certification on how to teach the subject, but only academic qualifications in the subject itself. Anybody having an Advanced Level certificate will be eligible to apply, he pointed out.

He also expressed concern that bringing foreign teachers would accentuate even more the strain being caused by overpopulation in crucial sectors like the healthcare system.

'Precarious employment' within state schools

The UPE CEO also pointed out that the Education Ministry was engaging trainers on “precarious” conditions, to teach vocational subjects in the Alternative Learning Programme – a scheme meant to offer basic skills for secondary school students at risk of dropping out.

He claimed that a group of about eight trainers were being paid €11.60 an hour on short-term contracts. Furthermore, they were not entitled to sick leave and vacation leave, and neither entitled to get paid during summer and public holidays.

“It beggars belief that such conditions are being offered by the ministry which is also responsible for employment” he remarked.

The Union questioned if this plan to bring foreign teachers would result in the introduction of cheap labour in the educational sector, saying in the long-term this would negatively impact the wage levels for Maltese teachers.

Better conditions needed

Mr Sansone said that the better solution would be for the government to offer  better working conditions to teachers in a bid to attract more people to the profession.

Moreover, measures needed to be introduced to enable teachers to focus exclusively on teaching rather than clerical duties which had been introduced in recent years.

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