The only reason we are speaking about education is that yet another future ex-minister has been given the job of running the department. We’re a handful of months from a general election, which means that even if this Clifton Grima (who?) is a jinn with a capacity for miracles heretofore trapped in a poor man’s lamp, nothing of substance is going to happen from now to election day.
As politicians who have lost elections will tell you, the months of limbo before an election is called must be the worst time for any administrative or policy innovation. Voters, it seems, only vote for the dull and unimaginative.
The problem is we’ve wallowed for years in this insipid policy desert, which is just how the government wanted it. Controversies in the education sector bring out the most irrational within us. Since children are involved, we debate every attempt to change anything about anything as if we were considering culling.
Parents rush to panic. Teachers – not all of them, mind you, but their union is notorious for its Byzantine intransigence – are too often disinclined to consider change, though they, rightly, often complain about things staying the same as well.
Consider reforms introduced during the years of Ugo Mifsud Bonnici (1987-1994) and Louis Galea (1998-2008). Controversies raged at the time of the changes they introduced. The success of those changes is mixed and, I should imagine, had they had the gift of foresight they would have done some things differently, though this doesn’t mean they would have faced less controversy. My point is they used the time they had as ministers to address major weaknesses they saw in the system.
Mifsud Bonnici’s tenure is best remembered for the reform of the tertiary sector, increasing university population tenfold in a decade and setting up the alternative path through MCAST.
Galea partly decentralised public schooling, enabling initiative and innovation with relative autonomy and attempting to disengage with the control-freakery of our public schooling tradition.
Since there are still way too many stupid people in our midst, we often speak of the quarter of a century of PN stewardship of education as a failure. If our education system really worked, we’d say more of us would be smarter. In absolute terms that’s a fair point. For the sake of illustration though, let’s keep this relative.
Evarist Bartolo boldly went where no minister had gone before, mixing girls and boys in secondary schools. After that great accomplishment, he perched himself on a twig of precarious survivalism while the government he belonged to sank in the corrupt quagmire of its own making.
Like a merged and superficially schizophrenic version of Waldorf and Statler from The Muppet Show, he cawed at Joseph Muscat, lamenting corruption and mismanagement without gesturing too hard lest he would be rewarded with a ‘promotion’ like the one Marie Louise Coleiro Preca got.
The months of limbo before an election is called must be the worst time for any administrative or policy innovation- Manuel Delia
Bartolo’s moral high horse had a heart attack when it turned out his right-hand man faced criminal charges for soliciting and collecting bribes from contractors working for his ministry. Unlike Muscat’s right-hand man, Bartolo’s did not have the ambition to set up a multi-million pot in Panama. A block of flats in Rabat was enough. But stealing is stealing is stealing and Bartolo’s tenure in education became that shrivelled, ghostly remnant of ecdysis he left behind as the rest of him slithered to a new life at the foreign office.
Presumably, he will one day inflict on us his memoirs and, in fits of unsolicited sincerity, like that never forgotten interview with Tim Sebastian where he implicitly confessed to knowing where Muscat buried the metaphorical bodies, he will tell us he had big dreams for the education sector that were frustrated by paralysing political circumstances.
That’s more than Owen Bonnici and Justyne Caruana could ever credibly claim. They were, in turn, wreaked on the education department as if it was an anachronistic dunce’s corner having both floundered big time in their previous jobs.
Bonnici had just been found by the court in breach of the fundamental safeguards of free speech, which, considering how he campaigned from opposition to free us all from the censoring Nationalists, would have been comically ironic if it hadn’t been quite so catastrophic. At the education department he looked and sounded as awkward and about as useful as salmon on a cow ranch.
Robert Abela was thankful for the opportunity to remove him and replace him with Caruana, whom he had to fire for pathological myopia some months earlier when she admitted never asking her cop husband who was paying for his expensive trips abroad. It turned out her husband’s sugar mommy was alleged-journalist-killer Yorgen Fenech.
She was about as ambivalent and clueless about education as her predecessor had been. Caruana was more focused on one-upping her now former husband, becoming sugar mommy for her friend. Since she doesn’t own casinos and ill-gotten power stations, the cost of her vice was covered by taxpayers.
If Grima merely shows up to work to twiddle his thumbs, he’d be improving on Labour’s education record just by avoiding corruption, human rights violations and sleazy scandals. He’ll instead be remembered for that one time he lost his cool with Karol Aquilina because he couldn’t find his way out of parliament under siege by protesters calling for Joseph Muscat to resign.
Considering that it is almost a cliché to say that Malta has no resources except for its humans, we find it astonishingly easy to top the most strategic department in our public administration with people who have barely any interest in anything beyond their own political survival.
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