I refer to the article ‘Teachers, union voice concerns over plans for new ‘applied’ subjects’ (The Sunday Times of Malta, March, 10).

The article gives the impression that the changes being implemented are being introduced overnight with no planning whatsoever. This is far from being the case.

In fact, these changes are aimed at something over which there is unanimous consensus and which has been a long time coming: to increase the number of students who successfully achieve their educational pathway while in compulsory education.

To achieve this aim, secondary schools will be providing students with a wider range of such educational pathways through the introduction of new applied and vocational subjects.  

The introduction of these subjects builds on the work done through the development of the National Curriculum Framework in 2012 and the subsequent Learning Outcomes Framework as well as the development of the Framework for the Education Strategy for Malta in 2014 leading to the My Journey reform of 2016. 

My Journey will continue to build on a reform which has already been in place for several years. In fact, the introduction of vocational subjects back in 2012 has already changed the scenario in secondary schools where hundreds of students in State, Church and independent schools have successfully attained a SEC certificate in these vocational subjects. 

At another level, the positive experience of vocational and applied learning as a different, but equally valid, educational pathway is confirmed by the experience of second chance programmes such as Mcast level 1, 2 and 3 programmes and the Alternative Learning Programme (ALP). The majority of students who attend such programmes are successful in achieving the level they would not have achieved in compulsory schooling.

The introduction of new vocational and applied secondary subjects within secondary schools therefore aims to give such a window of hope to students who, to date, have not been given the key to opening their door to a meaningful and successful educational pathway while at school. Around this aim, we have found unanimous consensus from all stakeholders, including teachers, parents and students. 

Preparations for the introduction of applied subjects in secondary schools as from September this year are well in hand. All stakeholders have always been kept informed of all developments. Educators have been and are being involved in crucial decisions particularly in the design of the relevant syllabi.

An overview of the planning of this change include thefollowing measures:

Seventy-seven laboratories are being refurbished with local and EU funds to have state-of-the-art teaching and learning spaces in schools.

Appropriate syllabi are being prepared by Matsec syllabi panels.

Consultation meetings with teachers about these syllabi have been held in February and are being held throughout March. During these meetings, teachers have been asked and will be asked to give their feedback and propose changes to the presented draft syllabi. Unfortunately, the MUT has issued a directive for teachers not to attend such meetings, held during school hours and during which teachers are excused from lessons.

Discussion meetings for all educators have been held and are being held in all secondary schools.

Students and parents have been informed about the changes through meetings in each State Middle school.

A national fair for students and their parents has been organised showcasing all subjects, i.e. academic, vocational and applied.

Open days in schools have been set up.

The option exercise for Year 8 students has just been concluded and secondary schools, together with their college principals and the Education Directorates, have started co-ordinating the organisational work needed to translate this choice into the necessary groupings for next scholastic year.

A course has been organised for educators who would like to teach these new subjects and 63 people successfully completed this training.

A call for regular teachers has been issued in these subjects. A call for supply teachers will also be issued.

The Faculty of Education within the University of Malta and the Institute for Education within MEDE has started part-time courses for teachers who wish to teach vocational and applied subjects.

The Faculty of Education is already offering a full-time Master’s in Teaching and Learning (MTL) in vocational and applied subjects.

In all phases, educators have been kept fully informed about these important changes. In particular, the Malta Union of Teachers has been always kept abreast of the developments both through its representation on the Matsec board as well as through its representation on the National Curriculum Framework Implementation Review Board. This board gathers all relevant stakeholders and has been regularly updated about the plans being undertaken.

At the end of the day, this is an important change which is well and truly needed to engage with the many students who are disengaged by the present system. We need to build on the excellent work which the present system offers and which has successfully educated thousands of students by implementing new pathways for those students who, every year, fall by the wayside.

Implementation means that the rhetoric of good intentions needs to be translated into the reality of action. Our appeal to all stakeholders is to walk the talk with us as we work towards implementing such an important change which will make a positive difference in the lives of thousands of students. 

Editorial note: Attempts by this newspaper to obtain this information proved futile, with questions sent to the Ministry of Education on the matter remaining unanswered. Both the teachers who spoke to this newspaper and the MUT have insisted that while they know what the new subjects are, they have yet to be told who will be teaching them and how many students have applied to take them.   

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