Nine out of 10 educators avoid being alone with a single student following recent cases of alleged abuse, according to a survey conducted by the Malta Union of Teachers.
More than two-thirds of the 450 who took part in the survey believe their work was affected by the national debate that followed the abuse allegations, and a quarter of them even refrained from participating in extracurricular activities.
The survey was carried out between October and November and the results will be passed on to the Education Ministry, an MUT conference heard yesterday.
Education Minister Evarist Bartolo told the conference that revealing the identity of an alleged abuser only once a case was decided –something which is normal practice in Scandinavia – would help ease the mind of educators.
Presenting the findings of the survey, MUT senior vice-president Marco Bonnici said the most recent cases preceding this survey included a man cleared of abuse after seven years when a girl made accusations against him in order to get out of school, and the case of the MUSEUM society catechist who was charged with defiling a 10-year-old.
When asked what measures should be taken to reduce the risk of allegations, 40 per cent of teachers suggested installing CCTV systems while others said doors should be left open or walls fitted with glass panels.
These results, Mr Bartolo said, would not be taken lightly. He called for a national campaign to reduce teachers’ fears, which ultimately affected the education process.
It was worrying, he added, that more than two-thirds did not feel their employer was taking all possible measures to reduce risks and protect them.
“This is not just about perception – we have 12-year-olds who assault teachers. We have to pass on a message to students and parents that this behaviour is unacceptable, and we need to implement sanctions.
“It is shocking that there are students who speak rudely and misbehave in class in the morning and then act in a disciplinary manner in the evening at the football nursery with the same teachers.
“This means we are passing on a message that children can misbehave at school,” Mr Bartolo said, adding that mutual respect was imperative.
Earlier, he said that when alleged abuses surfaced, adults working with children were presumed guilty immediately, and by the time they were found to be innocent they would have lost their reputation.
MUT president Kevin Bonello insisted that educators were feeling uncertain because of the different procedures adopted recently by the police and courts, including the publication of names. Policies, he added, were also changing with the change of ministers.
Referring to the increase in the Budget allocation for education, Mr Bonello said this was not enough. He appealed for a revision of the allocation so that research could be carried out about the changing challenges of the sector.
“There should also be a permanent committee for education and long-term planning, instead of the usual squabbling over things like tablets when elections approach. It is time that these farces end,” he urged.
Fear in numbers
• 90 per cent avoid being alone with one student.
• 57 per cent don’t communicate with students online.
• More than 66 per cent avoid physical contact.
• A quarter don’t participate in extracurricular activities.
• Nearly 35 per cent don’t organise voluntary work with minors.
• 68 per cent don’t think their employer is doing all that is possible.
• Nearly 84 per cent don’t believe in exposing the identity of alleged abusers.
Fear in words
• “I avoid staying in class with a small number of students to give extra help in homework during breaks like I used to do.”
• “If alone with a student, I keep the class door open and keep around three metres between us.”
• “In our profession, once there’s a rumour or allegation, it haunts you wherever you go.”
• “Our students like to come up and hug us. I started to push them away. They don’t understand.”
• “Once, my colleague and I had to carry a child as she was having a tantrum. The next day her mother accused us of dislodging her arm.”
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