A five-year-old Grade 1 student still has no clue who her teacher is because for the past four weeks her classroom has been headed by three different teachers.

Hers is one of at least 18 classrooms in primary state schools that still do not have fixed class teachers, with children being taught by rotating peripatetic educators or support teachers, according to a Facebook group set up by concerned parents who are calling on the government to address the situation.

“Last year, my daughter felt she belonged in class. She knew who her teacher was and her teacher knew her. This year, when I ask her who her teacher is she replies: I don’t know,” her father, one of the founders of the Facebook group, said.

The group, Parents of Kids in Malta State Schools with No Teacher, was set up by two fathers whose children have been struggling without a stable class teacher for the past few weeks.

So far, about 150 members have listed 18 impacted classrooms across state schools.

The scholastic year started off with a shortage of teachers in some 80 state primary schools.

The situation developed due to COVID-19 measures under which fewer children could occupy each classroom due to distancing and pupil bubbles.

Days before the start of the scholastic year, the authorities ordered peripatetic and support teachers, who usually focus on subjects such as art or PE, to report to ordinary classes to make up for the shortage.

But the Malta Union of Teachers objected to this lack of planning and issued directives ordering the transferred peripatetic and support teachers to return to their original roles.  

This has resulted in these teachers juggling between teaching their subject and catering to the class assigned to them.

Some children are being taught by rotating teachers who are not qualified or are out of touch with teaching and handling young children.

Several parents of the Facebook group have tried to reach out to the education authorities for a solution, to no avail.

Plenty of blame

Emails seen by Times of Malta show a lot of finger-pointing but no solution.

One parent described the e-mails as: “One entity dropping the bomb on the other whilst us parents and children/students are caught in the middle.”

Another parent said: “When we contacted the government to ask for help we were told ours was an isolated case… now we know this is not the case since we already identified 13 classrooms.

“Government is blaming COVID-19 and the unions… the unions and the opposition are pointing fingers at the government. But who is taking note of our children? We want government to take responsibility and show us a concrete long-term plan.”

This same parent said that, while addressing this year’s staff shortage was impossible, the short-term situation could be an increase of class sizes.

“If we can increase the size of parties and public events to 300, surely we can increase the size of a classroom to ensure all children get the education they deserve, even if that means using halls as classrooms,” a father said as he called for a clear long-term solution that involved attracting more people to the teaching profession.

He said he was looking into moving his daughter to an independent school.

“I might afford to but not everyone can. The situation in state schools must be addressed... this is about social justice,” he said.

Times of Malta sent questions about staff shortages to the education authorities back in September 14. However, no replies were received.

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