Education: a hostage of the market

 

The discourse on the subject of education is centred on forcing students into following the diktats of the market: the skills gap needs to be addressed. The assumption is that the market is some kind of given – independent of everything else – that invisible hand that is directing our lives.

What should we expect from vocational education and training?

The major institution in this sector in Malta is MCAST (The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology). Originally set up in the 1960s through funding and support from UNESCO, it had developed into an institution offering degree courses in business and engineering, amongst other new areas of study. Instead of encouraging it to develop and flourish with its own particular ethos and identity it was abruptly absorbed into the University of Malta as a result of the reforms in the late 1970s – the student-worker scheme!

Arguments for and against this absorption are plenty. What is sure, however, is, that a particular style and mode of education was lost for over 20 years and technically inclined students who followed courses at technical institutes instead of in sixth forms -with their rigid and uninspiring desk based teaching – found themselves practically shunned by places of higher education.

A lost generation.

In 2001, MCAST was re-established and existing technical institutes were brought together under one umbrella organisation. Over time, degree courses were developed and educational paths were offered at different levels – from foundation level courses, to technician level courses, up to degree level – all with different entry requirements according to the areas of study. These were backed up by different support systems catering to the differing needs of students, who can choose where to start their post-compulsory educational trajectory, depending on their progress to date. Cooperation with Dutch and Finnish technical universities and other universities of applied science are a positive development which must be further nurtured.

MCAST has developed over time, but the out-of-date mentality, still present as a colonial inheritance, which falsely splits education into ‘vocational’ and ‘academic’ streams continues to haunt the mind-set of policy makers’. Way back in the early 1900s, the progressive American educationalist John Dewey had already riled against a system that separates the practical from the so called ‘academic’. He had warned against a narrow education that pigeon-holed students, generally on the basis of their socioeconomic backgrounds.

MCAST should retain its identity; it should strengthen its cross-disciplinary and contextualised pedagogical methods. Science and technology do not exist in a vacuum and MCAST students should be given the opportunity to study languages, the relationship between science, technology and society and how policy-making depends on the power structures inherent in society.

To achieve this, the policy makers and the politically appointed board who are resisting improvement in the conditions of academic staff at MCAST are transmitting the wrong message: ie that MCAST is there to impart simple, pre-packaged ‘skills’, to train and not to educate, and that academic staff – with a wide range of qualifications and experience – are just there to transmit information.

Lecturers and technical staff should be given the opportunity to develop and apply knowledge and pedagogies which really enable students to flourish. The managerialist culture, copied from Britain, is destroying initiative and restricting innovation. Academic and technical programmes should be designed, implemented and managed by proper boards of studies made up of academic staff. Sure, input from industry is important, but the main focus should be a holistic education.

Unless technical staff and academic staff are given the right opportunities and conditions, brand new equipment will remain underutilised, new ways of teaching and learning will not be developed and, above all, treating MCAST as some kind of ‘lesser’ institution – even as regards conditions of work and the resources afforded to its academics will just strengthen long standing prejudice at the expense of society.

It is curious that Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, who is usually so vociferous when it comes to improving the educational infrastructure and the reform at the University of Malta – including the professional development of academic staff – has so far been silent on the entire subject. But then we might remember that the University of Malta will also shortly be made subservient to the interests of the business world!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 January 2018

Negozju mill-edukazzjoni

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Il-ftit art li għandna irridu nħarsuha. Ma nistgħux għalhekk immexxu l-quddiem proġetti li jibilgħu iktar art.  90,000 metru kwadru ta’ art mhux ċajta!

L-unika mod kif l-idea ta’ negozju mill-edukazzjoni  għall-barranin [għax dik fil-fatt hi l-proposta li ġiet imlaqqma Università Amerikana]  tista’ tkun implimentata hi billi naraw x’art użajna diġa u nfittxu kif nistgħu naddattawha jekk dan hu possibli.

Huwa żball oħxon li nfittxu proġetti li jirrikjedu riżorsi naturali li m’għandniex biżżejjed minnhom.

Kull proġett li jinvolvi bini ta’ art li s’issa mhiex mittiefsa hu problematiku.

Għalhekk l-opposizzjoni għall-użu tal-art taż-Żonqor. In-negozju mill-edukazzjoni ma jiġġustifikax li nissagrifikaw iktar art.

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (37) Education – The Curriculum

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The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 11 of AD’s Electoral Manifest

AD is in agreement with the way the consultation process regarding the National Curriculum Framework was conducted. Whilst referring to its detailed reaction on the document itself issued last year, AD emphasises the following points as the lynchpins for the development of our educational system:

The need for the NCF and by implication the educational system as a whole to distance itself from the pervading utilitarian and economic undertones which limit to a large extent efforts towards a truly holistic education.

There needs to be a conscious effort to make the NCF much less prescriptive so that it leaves much needed space for innovation in education whilst ensuring quality.

AD emphasises the need for a cooperative education and a sense of community as the lynch pins of educational policy.

AD agrees with efforts to provide a more holistic view in curriculum planning

AD gives thumbs up to the introduction of technology education in all schools as an educational right for all students rather than have this knowledge component segregated within particular schools as was the case in the past.

AD agrees with the proposal concerning changes in science education. This should help to reduce fragmentation of knowledge as a result of early specialization currently in place. This should help provide a more holistic, wider and critical view of the world. AD also supports the bigger emphasis on physical education.

There needs to be a better articulation of creativity and the arts such that these crucial aspects in educational development are not considered any more as the Cinderella of our educational system.

No efforts should be spared to help teachers feel inspired and supported within the context of mixed ability classes.

Whilst the draft NCF addresses reform in the primary and the secondary, AD feels that these efforts will remain half baked if urgent reforms in the Secondary Education Certificate (SEC), Matriculation (MATSEC) and the post secondary sector in general remain untackled. A conherent educational reform demands no less. AD strongly feels that SEC should be taken up by the Education Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education so that consistency in vision and implementation become more possible.

AD concurs with the proposal of ethical education for students who chose not to follow Catholic religion lessons. AD feels that this component should feature as an integral part of the curriculum for all students whilst still providing the opportunity for religious education.

AD notes with satisfaction that after airing its reservations regarding the regimen originally proposed in the Secondary School Certificate and Profile, a committee was subsequently set up for the revision of this certificate. AD suggests that following this revision, the policy is revised after a number of years following its implementation.

L-Estratt segwenti hu meħud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 11 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

AD taqbel mal-mod kif ġie mniedi il-proċess wiesgħa ta’ konsultazzjoni fuq il-Qafas il-ġdid tal-Kurrikulu Nazzjonali. Filwaqt li tirreferi għar-reazzjonijiet fid-dettall li tat fuq is-suġġett is-sena l-oħra, tisħaq fuq dawn il-punti prinċipali bħala spunti ta’ żvilupp fis-sistema edukattiva:

Il-bżonn li d-dokument u allura d-direzzjoni tas-sistema edukattiva kollha tinfatam mix-xeħta utilitarja u ekonomika li tillimita bil-kbir l-iskop edukattiv wiesgħa u ħolistiku.

Isir sforz ikbar sabiex dak li joħroġ mid-dokument ma jkunx preskrittiv, imma jħalli spazju biżżejjed għall-innovazzjoni edukattiva, filwaqt li jiżgura prattika ta’ kwalità.

Tisħaq fuq il-bżonn ta’ edukazzjoni kooperattiva u s-sens ta’ komunità bħala qafas prinċipali tal-politika edukattiva.

Taqbel mat-tentattiv li jingħata sens ħolistiku ikbar fl-ippjanar tal-kurrikulu

Taqbel mal-introduzzjoni ta’ edukazzjoni teknoloġika fl-iskejjel kollha bħala dritt edukattiv ta’ kull student, iktar milli dan il-qasam tal-għerf jiġi ssegregat fi skejjel partikulari kif kien isir fl-imgħoddi.

Taqbel mar-riforma proposta fit-tagħlim tax-xjenza li għandu jnaqqas mill-frammentazzjoni tal-għerf frott speċjalizzazzjoni bikrija. Dan għandu jgħin biex tingħata stampa iktar sħiħa, wiesgħa u kritika tad-dinja. Taqbel ukoll mal-enfasi ikbar fuq l-edukazzjoni fiżika.

Fl-istess waqt, issostni l-bżonn ta’ artikolazzjoni ta’ politika fuq il-kreattività u l-arti biex dawn l-oqsma kruċjali fl-iżvilupp edukattiv ma jibqgħux kunsiderazzjonijiet tas-sekonda klassi.

Jibqa’ jsir kull sforz biex l-għalliema jħossu li huma mnebbħa u mgħejuna fl-isfond ta’ klassijiet ta’ abbiltajiet imħallta.

Tħoss li filwaqt li l-Qafas tal-Kurrikulu jindirizza riforma wiesgħa fil-qasam primarju u sekondarju, dan ma jistax isir b’mod adekwat jekk paripassu ma jiġux indirizzati riformi urġenti li għandhom bżonn isiru kemm fis-sistema tas-SEC, MATSEC, u s-sistema post-sekondarja kollha kemm hi. Hemm bżonn riforma edukattiva li tkun koerenti f’kull livell. Għaldaqstant, AD tħoss li t-tmexxija tas-SEC għandha taqa’ taħt il-ġuriżdizzjoni tad-Direttorat tal-Kwalità u Standards fl-Edukazzjoni biex ikun hemm konsistenza fil-viżjoni u fl-implimentazzjoni.

Taqbel mal-proposta fil-kurrikulu l-ġdid li jipproponi t-tagħlim tal-etika għal studenti li jagħżlu li ma jsegwux lezzjonijiet fir-reliġjon Kattolika. AD tħoss li dan il-komponent ta’ etika għandu jkun parti integrali mill-kurrikulu ta’ kull student filwaqt li l-istudenti kollha jingħataw l-opportunità jsegwu lezzjonijiet f’reliġjonijiet rikonoxxuti mill-istat.

Huwa bi pjaċir li wara t-tħassib muri mill-AD fuq ir-reġimentazzjoni fis-Secondary School Certificate and Profile kif propost oriġinarjament, twaqqaf kumitat li rreveda din l-għodda. AD tipproponi li anke wara din ir-reviżjoni, issir evalwazzjoni wara numru ta’ snin meta din l-għodda tkun għaddiet mill-għarbiel tal-prattika.

Eko-Skola: kelmet iż-Żgħażagħ dwar l-Ambjent

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Ħadt sehem fit-tieni Summit ta’ Eko-Skola dwar l-Ambjent li sar dal-għodu fi Xrobb l-Għaġin Marsaxlokk.

Flimkien ma Mario de Marco u Joseph Muscat indirizzajt lill-istudenti u lill-għalliema tagħhom.

Iż-żgħażagħ tagħna fehmu l-ħtieġa li jeħtieġ li jkunu huma li jieħdu ħsieb il-futur tagħhom. Dan hu rifless b’mod qawwi fid-dikjarazzjoni tagħhom li approvaw dal-għodu fi tmiem is-summit.

Iddiskutew bosta suġġetti pero fuq quddiem kien hemm l-ilma, l-enerġija l-iskart u l-baħar ta’ madwarna.

Id-diskussjoni li kellhom dal-għodu tawgura tajjeb ħafna għal futur għax ifisser li tiela ġenerazzjoni b’sensittivita ikbar għal dak kollu li qiegħed jiġri madwarha. Huwa awgurju tajjeb ukoll għall-għalliema u l-familji ta’ dawn iż-żgħażagħ. Għax iżjed minn xi ħaġa li tgħallmu dak li smajt dal-għodu hu prova ta’ dak li jħossu, ta’ dak li jippruvaw jgħixu kemm huma kif ukoll dawk ta’ madwarhom.

Prosit mill-ġdid liż-żgħażagħ tagħna li permezz ta’ eko-skola qed juru kemm li tinvesti fil-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri hu l-iktar pass għaqli.

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (27) Education (general)

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The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 11 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Education is an endeavour which should be intimately tied with the all-round development of persons including the academic, physical, social, ethical, emotional and vocational aspects. Education should also develop a sense of respect towards the environment of which we are a part. It should also help the development of a creative attitude and a critical conscience within the framework of communities. This is deemed important given the current situation of precariousness in employment and an underlying neo-liberal hegemony which gradually unravel collective responsibility and solidarity.

Education should be the means that develops democratic citizenship. Rather than perpetuating social inequalities, education should be the vehicle for their removal. In a changing world, education should be a continuous, dynamic, critical and transformative endeavour which is life-long. AD had officially endorsed the reform in education launched four years ago on the premise that the reform was sorely needed. At the same time, AD feels that it should stimulate discussion and critical debate so that the process and the ultimate aims of the reform, in particular the issue of social justice are upheld.

L-Estratt segwenti hu meħud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 11 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

L-edukazzjoni għandha tkun marbuta mal-iżvilupp sħiħ tal-bniedem li jinkludi l-aspetti akkademiċi, fiżiċi, soċjali, spiritwali, etiċi, emozzjonali, u vokazzjonali. Għandha trawwem ukoll rispett lejn id-dinja u l-ambjent li sawwarna u li ngħixu fih. L-edukazzjoni għandha tgħin lill-individwi jiżviluppaw attitudni kreattiva u kuxjenza kritika f’kuntest komunitarju. Dan partikolarment fi sfond soċjali kurrenti ta’ prekarjetà u xejriet neo-liberali li jnaqqru mis-sens ta’ responsabbiltà kollettiva u solidarjetà.

L-edukazzjoni għandha tkun il-mezz li bih il-persuni jiżviluppaw bħala ċittadini f’soċjetà demokratika. L-edukazzjoni m’għandhiex tipperpetwa l-inugwaljanzi soċjali iżda għandha tgħin biex dawn jixxejnu. F’dinja li l-ħin kollu qed tinbidel, l-edukazzjoni trid tkun proċess kontinwu u dinamiku kif ukoll kritiku u trasformattiv li jissokta tul il-ħajja. L-AD kienet uffiċjalment ħaddnet u approvat ir-riforma fl-edukazzjoni varata erba’ snin ilu għax emmnet fil-bżonn tagħha. Fl-istess waqt, tħoss li għandha tistimola diskussjoni u ħsieb kritiku biex il-proċess u l-għan aħħari tar-riforma partikolarment dak ta’ ġustizzja soċjali jintlaħaq.

5th October – Students’ Day

Today may not mean much to some of the readers.

To others it means a lot. In particular it is Student’s Day.

Student’s Day commemorates the day when the students stood up in protest in 1977. I was there.  A second year student in the then Faculty of Engineering and Architecture

It was 1977 when Medical Students had their lecturers locked out as a result of the trade dispute between MAM, the medical doctors’ union,  and Government.  With their lecturers locked out students could not attend lectures.

Chained to the railing at Auberge de Castille, the students carried placards stating “I want to study in Malta”.

Early in the afternoon of the 5th October the Students’ Council Annual General Meeting at University suspended its session and those present proceeded to Valletta in full support of the Medical Students. Almost immediately a substantial number of police from their Floriana HQ caught up with us students and chased us all the way from Valletta to University. Some were manhandled and beaten.

It was the beginning of a very long and sad story, a very difficult time for tertiary education.

The Labour Government led by Dom Mintoff commenced substantial changes to the tertiary educational setup. Labour devised a “one size fits all” student worker scheme based on government’s requirements in state hospitals. Six months study were to be followed by six months work with some holidays and examinations sandwiched in between.

The work experience, if properly planned was beneficial. But unfortunately it was not as students ended up as part of the ordinary workforce with insufficient time to dedicate to their studies. Various submisions were made to government to change the system, but Labour would not listen.

The university student population at that time was around 400. A substantial contrast to the current 10,000+ population.

It was Labour’s darkest hour in tertiary education.

originally published in di-ve.com on 5 October 2012

5 t’Ottubru 1977 – Jum l-Istudent

 

Għada il-5 t’Ottubru għalija hu marbut mal-ġrajjiet ta’ nhar il-5 t’Ottubru 1977.

Dakinhar l-istudenti tal-Mediċina minħabba t-tilwima tat-tobba mal-Gvern kienu ffaċċjati bl-Iskola Medika magħluqa. Dan kien ifisser studju wieqaf.

L-istudenti tal-Mediċina intrabtu mar-railing tal-Berġa ta’ Kastilja u waqt li kienet għaddejja il-laqgħa ġenerali tal-Kunsill tal-Istudenti konna infurmati b’dan u numru mhux żgħir ta’ studenti dħalna l-Belt nagħtuhom appoġġ. Jien kont hemm.

Dakinnhar jiena kont student għadni nibda t-tieni sena fil-kors tal-arkitettura.

Ftit wara li wasalna Kastilja waslu ukoll il-Pulizija li bdew iferxuna u baqgħu jiġru warajna sal-Universita.

Kienu żmienijiet diffiċli għall-edukazzjoni terzjarja. Konna numru żgħir ta’ studenti, b’mod partikolari meta tqabblu mal-eluf li hemm illum fl-Univerista’.Il-Gvern ta’ Mintoff dakinnhar kien ħolom bl-iskema student ħaddiem li bil-mod kif imħaddma kissret l-edukazzjoni Univeristarja b’effetti li damu jinħassu għal snin twal.

L-iżball fundamentali kien li ttrattaw lil kulħadd l-istess : sitt xhur xogħol sitt xhur studju Skema li kienet imfassla prinċipalment fuq il-ħtiġjiet li kellu l-Gvern fl-isptar fejn ma kellux tobba biżżejjed għajr dawk (prinċipalment) ta’ nazzjonalita’ barranin li daħlu jaħdmu flok dawk li ħarġu bi strajk. L-istudenti li sadakinhar kienu jduru s-swali tal-isptar mal-professuri biex jitgħallmu mill-każijiet li kienu għall-kura issa kienu ta’ għajnuna  biex jimlew il-vojt li kien hemm fl-isptar.

U bħalma għamlu l-istudenti tal-mediċina kella nagħmlu aħna l-istudenti tal-arkitettura fid-Dipartiment tax-Xogħolijiet. Xi ħaga titgħallem. Imma sitt xhur straight sena wara l-oħra kienu ħela ta’ ħin. U l–Gvern tal-Labour ma kienx interessat li jisma’.      

Ma nafx jekk semgħux dawn it-tip ta’ kummenti tal-Labour huma u jeżaminaw l-istorja tal-Partit fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li għaddiet.

Din hi waħda mit-tbajja’ fl-istorja tal-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern.