At a recent two-day conference in Qawra on Finland’s education system and pedagogy attended by Maltese teachers, an online survey was conducted among the participants to ask what type of challenges Maltese teachers were facing in class. Students’ challenging behaviour was cited by 25 per cent of the respondents; another 22 per cent stressed that they do not have enough time to carry out all their duties; while 15 per cent mentioned the pressures brought about by differentiated teaching; others emphasised the vast syllabi and the lack of resources.

Over 300 Maltese educators from State, Church and independent schools attended the conference and workshops that focused on how Finnish pedagogies of learning could influence existing practices in Maltese schools and classrooms. Although the survey was conducted on a small scale, the results were still interesting and worth taking note of.

The bulk (78 per cent) of the respondents worked at kindergarten and primary level, 14.6 per cent at secondary level and the remaining 7.3 per cent at post-secondary level. Regarding their teaching experience, 26 per cent had been teaching for up to five years; 22 per cent had between six and 10 years of experience; 18.3 per cent between 11 and 15 years and 20.7 per cent between 16 and 25 years.

When teachers were asked what would help them to deliver better lessons, 33 per cent of the respondents mentioned the importance of having more or better resources. Sixteen per cent said they could hold better lessons if they were trusted more at both school and class level, while 12 per cent said lessons would improve if there are fewer pupils in class. Others mentioned factors like having less textbooks, being supported more in class and receiving more training.

The Maltese curricula and syllabi should be less vast and should include more pupil discussions, group work, more outdoor curricular activities, more emphasis on life skills, holistic learning and problem-solving activities

When teachers were asked from where they got ideas for their lessons, 80 per cent said that they conduct research from various websites and Facebook pages while 60 per cent added that they also consulted colleagues and friends.

This is an interesting finding as it resonates how important it is to allow schools the possibility of creating more structured opportunities for teachers and school leaders to engage in collaborative endeavours. It also confirms the findings of various local studies (e.g. Bezzina, 2006) and more recently Attard Tonna and Calleja (2018).

Maltese educators were also asked which applications or digital learning tools they use while teaching. Interactive whiteboards were mentioned by 27 per cent of respondents; another 15 per cent mentioned their tablet/laptop; 12 per cent said internet sites; seven per cent cited Kahoot and six per cent listed Youtube educational channels and sites.

At the end of the conference the participants were also asked an open-ended question about which ideas in the Finnish education system they believe could be adopted in the Maltese education system. The teachers mentioned the idea of having free play till children were six years old (i.e. Grade 2); having less homework; and the idea that educators should not be judged by parents on the basis of the amount of homework they give their children.

They also added that there should be more parental involvement, and that children should have more breaks and hands-on activities; that the Maltese curricula and syllabi should be less vast and should include more pupil discussions, group work, more outdoor curricular activities, more emphasis on life skills, holistic learning and problem-solving activities.

The survey participants also stated that assessment should be more flexible and that the education authorities should respect the autonomy and professional status of the teachers. They suggested that at primary level there should be more transversal teaching, while physical education lessons should increase at all levels.

It was also argued that all teachers – irrespective of whether they worked in State, Church or independent schools – should be given the same educational resources. They proposed that children should have a say in their education while vocational subjects should be offered to all students at secondary level and not only to those who choose them.

This feedback shows local educators’ willingness to improve the Maltese education system and children’s educational experience. However, this can only happen if current syllabi are updated, if educators are trusted more not only by the education authorities but also by other stakeholders and are treated as professionals. Maltese teachers should also be consulted regularly and provided with adequate resources.

The international conference was organised by Mater Boni Consilii St Joseph School Paola in collaboration with the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism and Learning Scoop Finland. The workshops were led by Johanna Jarvinen Taubert and Kaisa Tuomarla from Learning Scoop Finland, who also conducted the online survey with the Maltese participants.

The conference is being followed up by future initiatives. For the second consecutive year, a group of Maltese educators will be travelling to Tampere in Finland in August to visit a number of Finnish schools and will also be having lectures at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences.

This educational experience will once again be possible thanks to EU funding obtained through the European Union Programmes Authority and Erasmus Plus. Another international conference in Malta is already planned for March 2019.

Dr Kenneth Vella is headmaster of Mater Boni Consilii St Joseph School Paola, a member of the executive committee of the Malta Society For Educational Administration and Management and the international representative of Learning Scoop Finland.

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