When the Malta Union of Teachers published the results of an internal survey conducted among its members, the Education Ministry was more concerned with its methodology than its findings. This survey revealed that approximately 90 per cent of teachers had to deal with aggressive behaviour from parents and students and the Union was thus requesting that concrete and realistic actions be taken – and fast – in order to make sure that the school environment was safe and secure, as expected.

The Nationalist Party issued a statement that addresses these shortcomings and the urgent need to find a solution to this problem, which is rather alarming since the educational environment should, first and foremost, be conducive to learning.

The survey by the Malta Union of Teachers cannot be viewed solely in terms of percentages which reveal a high level of violence and aggression, but must be tied with a previous study presented some months ago in which teachers expressed a desire to change jobs if they found an opportunity to work in an environment beyond the classroom. This study shows that only 18 per cent of teachers would remain in this profession regardless of the other opportunities presented to them. This, without any doubt, demonstrates the precarious conditions within which teachers have to work. They are not merely shortcomings due to a lack of resources but serious issues arising from social factors which develop beyond the school.

Clear proof that the government has lost all control of the educational sector

When replying to a parliamentary question raised by the Nationalist Party, another alarming statistic was revealed, confirming that the teaching profession is threatened in the long run. In 2018, the year in which the government’s Sectorial Agreement came to force, 57 teachers resigned despite the government’s assurance that it was tackling various misgivings in the sector. This is, by far, the highest rate in the past 10 years as it goes contrary to what was expected and reveals, therefore, that the problem is larger than it seems. During the first month of 2019, a further nine teachers resigned. This does not augur well during this year in which new changes are being introduced to the educational system.

The Malta Union of Teachers has also expressed its concern at the fact that the government does not have the required number of teachers needed to teach 13 new subjects which will be introduced in the forthcoming scholastic year. This raises a number of questions related to the quality of teaching, particularly since the would-be teachers will get their training in the short period spanning from February to September.

Incidents similar to those which occurred at the Santa Klara Secondary College will continue putting off those who would be interested in taking up this profession. This type of attitude, aggression and violence against educators and students in Maltese schools needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms, and the government needs to ensure that schools provide a safe environment, not only for educators but more importantly for our children.

This can only happen if schools are equipped with the necessary human resources, including social workers, guidance teachers and a prefect of discipline for each college (at the moment, a prefect of discipline is shared between two colleges) in order to meet the challenges which every student (and their educators) have to deal with.

The lack of concrete strategy in this regard is clear proof that the government has lost all control of the educational sector, and this will have a deteriorating effect in the long term.

Justin Schembri is a PN candidate on the eighth district while Frank Psaila is a PN MEP candidate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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