‘We don’t need no education’
I wonder if the notorious song ‘Another brick in the wall (Part 2: Education)’ by the legendary Pink Floyd still resonates in our current student cohort eardrums the way it did back in the 1980s when I was still at secondary school.
Can’t forget the facial expressions when we sang this tune in one garrulous chorus as teachers walked into class. We must have sounded terribly unappreciative of the work they do, to say the least. But apart from becoming a bit of a signature tune amongst rebellious and defiant students, ‘education’ in whatever shape and size it comes, still remains a contestable affair.
Some random thoughts I would like to share on this matter; • It is very likely that once again the issue of student transportation will top the first few weeks of schooling. I cannot understand how people fail to realise the reason why we get bottlenecks during the scholastic year simply boils down to a fundamental motive, apart from the messed up infrastructure and headless people sent out to manage our traffic. All is in a muddle becaue our road network is flooded with nannus, nannas, mummies and daddies who think that it would be bad ‘parenting’ if they don’t drop off and pick up their son and daughter themselves. This inevitably entails that during most of the day people are travelling all over the island flooding our roads. We need to incentivise guardians to make use of vans and buses and for those who can, should walk to school. Believe me you don’t need a magic wand for this one! The ongoing debate if our children have become koċċuti, undisciplined and rude never ceases to amaze me. These same people who claim that children are all of the above were once kids themselves and probably were similarly accused of being unmanageable, disobedient, boisterous and disorderly – making it sound as if children are the debauchery of society is pathetic! Do we want students to be courteous and well-mannered, critical but respectful, disciplined but able to take initiatives – let’s start from home! One of the most difficult jobs I’ve had in my career was teaching in a secondary school. Even though I loved being there, I appreciated the students, I enjoyed the camaraderie and I valued the excellent leadership – working in a school is indeed a substantial challenge. The close proximity with students, the preparation, the constant pressures the system threw at us, literally shattered me. Being an educator is no funny story and those that joke on teachers having so many holidays I invite to have a go at managing a class for a couple of months and if they survive they can tell us all about it. University and MCAST students need to be more analytic, reasoned and questioning – this is something we hear often. We are also told that students don’t study and read enough. Fair enough. However, it is also up to us that teach in these institutions to make tuition engaging – it’s what really gets students enthused. Inclusion is good, it makes sense and we should never give it up. Where and when it doesn’t work in schools, it is simply an issue that we are not putting enough effort into it. Whilst I do respect the work that is being done in Resource Centres (the new name we gave to Special Schools) being ‘together’ is beneficial, valuable and unparalleled because society is about people living as one, growing together and sharing and supporting the limitations of others. Somebody please convince me that there is no solution to children having to wake up at six in the morning (or even earlier) to go to school. Isn’t this bad for their development? Still waiting for the medical community to give us their take on this. The MUT carries a legacy in tradeunionism. Undoubtedly the MUT is one of the most effective and active unions around. It does well to defend its members and should remain doing so. What bothers me is that in our education system we haven’t found the right balance between union involvement and meddling in the way our schools operate. It is a well known fact that the minister is more concerned that an initiative is approved by the MUT council than by the Cabinet of Ministers! I wonder if it is time to realise that the pay teachers get, especially at school management level is nowhere comparable to the responsibilities assistant and heads of school have to take on board. Lest we forget heads of school, apart from the responsibilities, spend all their holidays going to and fro to school to prepare for the scholastic year and not mentioning the work they have to take home. We have brand new state schools being built and others that have got themselves a thorough revamp. State schools are now turning into top notch schools with excellent facilities and highend resources. This is the way it should be. That the state provides support to private and Church schools is good but not at the cost of disregarding its own. Some are quick to criticise teacher training that is being delivered at university. Terribly unfair. It is definitely not perfect but training educators within such complex and volatile social conditions is a consideration we need to make. Some teachers would even dare say that what they learn at university is completely different from what happens in the school community once they are on the job. Well that could be the case, but that is why teachers are professionals so that they can generalise the skills they learn at university and adapt them to their particular context, nobody can do that for them. I am one of those who cannot stand the fact that our education system is in a constant state of review – it is becoming a comic story. I do understand that we need to review our practices, adapt to circumstances but making a new policy every fourth week is not only ridiculous but shows a lack of planning and as a result puts enormous strain on our school communities. If we really need to move forward we need to decentralise. Layers upon levels upon tiers of procedures, managers and administrators makes operating schools overly costly and pedantic. I think that with the right training, improved budget, more autonomy in decision making and enhanced administrative support systems a large crop of the heads of schools can deal excellently well with running their own schools. Would anyone care to sort out the massive school bags students are made to carry every day on their backs? It is unthinkable that with the digital society, access to computers and tablets, social media and email we still expect students to carry around so much stuff. ‘16-year-olds should vote in the General Elections’ debate is back on the national agenda. If there is a national issue that has a hiccup upshot it’s this one. Nonetheless, it is heartening that we are talking about 16year-olds that should be given the vote – but that is only a half-baked motion – what about contesting the elections (that is, assuming we really believe in young people)?
Dr Andrew Azzopardi Head of Department Department of Youth and Community Studies Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta & Broadcaster – Għandi xi Ngħid www.andrewazzopardi.org