“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacherfor living well” – Alexander the Great.

Educators provide society with the necessary skills, prepare us for our careers, and instil in us our moral and democratic values, all of which are so essential for a functioning society that upholds norms and values. 

To choose to be an educator is to dedicate your life to improve tomorrow’s generation, contributing to the general well-being and development of all society. It is therefore natural to expect that this contribution is reciprocated in the form of respect, particularly by those who are the direct recipients – the students.

Regrettably, this does not happen to be the present situation in our country.

A recent study by the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) revealed that nearly 90 per cent of our educators have experienced some degree of aggression from their pupils. Putting this into perspective and quoting the MUT: “Nine out of 10 of the 183 teachers who spoke to the union said they had experienced aggression at their school over the past two years.”

A shocking number, to say the least, although I have to say that it did not come as a complete surprise, having received knowledge of this violence from my numerous meetings held directly with educators as well as the MUT.

It is of great concern that such incidents are happening on a daily basis, which are demoralising those people who play an important role in a thriving society. This assumes more relevance particularly since Malta is experiencing a significant decline in students choosing to pursue a teaching profession.

I have on previous occasions talked about the need to increase teachers’ salaries to that which does more justice to the work that they do. Although the low salary is a major factor contributing to the decline of the teaching profession, student aggression and intimidation are by no means any less significant. 

Aggression towards teachers is a complex issue, and can have more than one root cause. One, however, cannot ignore what pupils observe and digest, especially in the various media platforms available today.

Introducing harsher fines in respect of those found threatening educators is all well and good… still, we need to go well beyond that

Therefore, as policymakers it is our duty to update existing legislation concerned with protecting children from harmful audio-visual content.

At the European Parliament we have enhanced the directive on audio-visual media, with the aim of ensuring more protection of minors from harmful content.

Collectively, adults need to be cautious as to what kind of material young children have access to. Harmful audio-visual material could easily be translated into real life aggression.

During my first year and a half as a member of the European Parliament, I have highlighted the need for the promotion of specific measures and incentives in order that more students are encouraged to take up teaching as a profession.

I have tabled several amendments which reflect the views of Maltese stakeholders, to a report focusing on the modernisation of education. One of the most pertinent amendments and which is very relevant to the issue of violence and intimidation in schools, is the importance of continuous training for teachers.

This type of training can help teachers face more effectively the present day challenges which they face in the classroom. 

I have also focused on the facilitation of quality inclusive education for persons with disabilities and launched the European Dyslexia Charter.

Another key issue is the need to modernise our education system to make it more compatible with today’s societal needs. Moreover, I have appealed for more security for our educators.

Our Education Minister has responded by indicating that he intends to set up some form of online procedure for reporting such incidents. He also told the media that he is satisfied with what he had already done to increase security at schools.

The government cannot wait for the fire to culminate into a blaze, since any intervention at that stage would be far too late.  The government needs to engage proactively with educators and all stakeholders about the matter and come up with a precise and concrete plan of action that would have a timeline by which to gauge its implementation or otherwise.

The views of parents and students are also to be taken into account since policymaking should always be a process of taking on board and involving all concerned.

Introducing harsher fines in respect of those found threatening educators is all well and good, a step in the right direction... still, we need to go well beyond that. 

We should instil in our students a sense of respect towards their educators. We must turn security into a non-existential problem, whereby teachers feel at ease to impart their knowledge in the classroom and positively engage with their students. 

We ought to unite and eradicate this problem by promoting fairness and inclusivity, by providing adequate training for teachers and ultimately by giving teachers the respect that they deserve.

Teachers deserve far better.

Francis Zammit Dimech is a Nationalist Party MEP.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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