It is good news for Malta and Gozo that a National Cultural Policy 2021 (NCP) has been presented to the public for consultation. This is very positive for the educational and cultural system in Malta, and as education officers in charge of music, we have special interest in the fourth priority of this draft policy, namely ‘Improving artistic and cultural education’.
We feel that having a national strategy between the Education Ministry and the Cultural Ministry is a must. However, the process leading to it is important since all existing good practices and lessons learned from other attempts to improve artistic and cultural education should be taken into serious consideration.
We feel that education officers who are specialised in the field, and have been working for many years for the betterment of their artistic subjects, should be consulted and have a direct involvement in the formulation of the policy. This will ensure a more realistic approach to the upscaling of arts education in Malta.
Thus, we feel it is important to examine this draft policy taking into consideration our everyday work to promote the artistic subjects and the official learning outcomes.
The formal and informal programme suggested in this strategy has to be in line with the syllabus already in place. We feel that the strategy can only be a success if it is implemented by the Ministry for Education in conjunction with the Ministry for Culture for support. Also, since the music option is linked with the new SEC programme and with post-secondary education, the University of Malta needs to be included in the discussions.
The policy proposes that a quota of a minimum of 60 hours of artistic and cultural education per academic year is provided for all students in middle and secondary schools. We support this to the full since it will give the students a better entitlement of the subjects.
In practical terms, this means that an additional lesson per week for middle schools and three extra lessons per week for secondary schools will have to be included in the timetable for a whole scholastic year. This might create some issues with timetable logistics since additional lesson-slots would have to be taken from other subjects to fulfil this proposal. We would recommend that an assessment is carried out on the extent to which the curricula of other subjects will be affected by this proposal.
How proper implementation of this policy will affect the overall education outcomes is a serious issue that needs proper discussion with education professionals. For instance, has there been professional consideration of how the proposed ‘integrated members of staff within schools’ will be implemented?
Within the primary sector, there is currently a cohort of circa 40 peripatetic teachers. These teachers normally teach in three schools to cover all primary schools. In case they shift from peripatetic to ‘integrated members of staff within schools’, there would be the need for more professional music teachers to cater for all schools. The same applies for the other art subjects.
Moreover, music teachers are used to discuss, seek opportunities, and work together on interdisciplinary projects. In this regard, before COVID restrictions, music peripatetic teachers used to have 90 minutes curriculum time every week on Friday. During this time, music teachers used to work together on various levels.
This good practice can be expanded by including other teachers of other artistic disciplines. Hence the introduction of the proposed ‘creative arts coordinator’ in every school might create more red tape and this role might be unnecessary in certain small schools.
It is only through thorough discussion with all directly involved in schools that this policy can thrive
One might consider having one creative arts coordinator per college and work with arts teachers, education officers in charge of art subjects, educators and artists who are specialised in the field. In this way, these projects will serve as an extension of the programme of study. Considering the proposals mentioned in the document, including additional hours of artistic and cultural education per academic year within the primary, middle and secondary sectors, it is calculated that the cohort of music teachers within our schools should increase from circa 60 to about 160.
This amount excludes other art subjects, and the creative arts coordinators mentioned in this proposal. Finding these professional music teachers with the required pedagogical experience is almost close to impossible, taking into consideration the fact that only a handful of music teachers graduate from the University of Malta per year.
Moreover, there are others who might opt to follow other careers and educators who retire. The establishment of a cultural passport for all low-income and materially deprived households is very beneficial. We are all in favour that all students gain access to arts events and arts education. Moreover, often families are reluctant to encourage their children to learn a new instrument as a quality instrument may be expensive.
Other schemes could be also offered, such as buying instruments by monthly instalments, interest free, or introducing a loaning of instruments scheme. Additionally, all students should also benefit from the Malta Arts Scholarship Scheme.
The policy also mentions cultural formation centres. Schools already have at least one music room. In addition to the basic requirement of at least one music room in every school, to be true to this policy, an additional music room might be required in bigger schools requiring two or more music teachers. It is also essential that each school has a hall that is readily available where students can perform or present artistic installations.
Furthermore, one of the learning outcomes in the existing music programme gives the opportunity to students to experiment and update their knowledge of the arts through the use of technology.
Thus, based on our experience, more than introducing media literacy as a subject on its own, we feel that there is much more need for specialised equipment so that students choosing music at Year 9 and students attending the Malta Visual and Performing Arts School (MVPA) will have the opportunity to work on video productions and other projects requiring recordings and post-production work.
The document suggests setting-up cultural and creative programmes tailor-made for school children and young people, specifically designed in partnership with public cultural organisations, Heritage Malta and schools in Malta and Gozo.
It is also being proposed that an accreditation system to recognise and register cultural and creative practitioners providing an education service is established. This is already in place and accessible through the official education website listed as cultural and creative entities, and includes service providers for the performing arts, and the visual arts.
Though the MVPA is a school where students are given the opportunity to focus on a specific artistic area, it is still part of compulsory schooling, covering all other academic subjects.
Students need to follow the learning outcomes programme, together with a syllabus. Indeed, it goes without saying that although it is essential to cultivate partnerships with cultural institutions, governance and curriculum should be entirely the responsibility of the Education Department and the school itself.
It is good to have a partnership between the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture in relationship to the School of Music, Art and Drama, but since these are education entities, we feel that these schools should remain under the responsibility of the Education Ministry.
Public organisations are still welcome to collaborate with the Ministry of Education, but toying with the idea of shifting the responsibility of education institutions outside the official education structures is something that needs to be handled carefully.
This policy makes reference to an apprenticeship scheme with industry. These work best in the post-secondary sector where students can integrate more and do hands-on work in relation to their area of study.
The draft policy specifies the need for support from regional and local councils. This is vital to enable long term improvement in the number of 16+ students to perform an instrument and take part in artistic activities at a local level.
Mariella Cassar-Cordina and Mario Attard are education officers in charge of music
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