The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers was left aghast while reading an article issued on April 27th, where Lovin Malta sang the praises of our educational system. The union feels that the article, entitled “7 Surprising Facts About Working As A Maltese State School Teacher”, depicts an idyllic situation which is a far cry from the day-to-day reality our educators live. The only thing which it really finds surprising is the total and utter misinformation it imparts.
- Investment puts teachers front and centre.
In the article, Lovin Malta speaks of the investment the government has made on “school infrastructure, computers, IT equipment for improved teaching grades conditions and emphasis on professional development”. It failed however to investigate the veracity of this claim. The union recognises that the ministry has given importance to infrastructure but not to a point where one can call it sufficient or even, in many cases, adequate. From several months before the COVID-19 outbreak, the union had lamented the fact that many teachers were still not equipped with a laptop and it had also issued directives on behalf of PSCD teachers who were not given a classroom, or if given one, they had no access to an all-in-one whiteboard or furniture. Not to mention that many schools are still lacking basics like toilet paper and soap or even free drinking water.
- Being a state school teacher is joining a team of young, innovative educators
The union applauds how Lovin Malta recognises how innovative our teachers are and how they are always there, ready to put their best foot forward. However, it has turned a blind eye onto how the government is not incentivising young people to join the profession. It has become so difficult to become a teacher, because of restrictions in courses, that students are opting out of setting off along the path of education as a profession. Young graduates holding a bachelor’s degree in different subjects are appointed as supply teachers with no advancement opportunities leaving these young workers in a dead end job, with inadequate remuneration.
- Malta’s state educators are paid more than some European counterparts
With a perceived hint of derision, Lovin Malta places a comparison of local teachers’ salaries with the income received in countries like France, Italy, England and Finland. Again, it chose to fail to notice how the progression rate in these countries is by far superior to ours and that even there, remuneration is still not adequate. The amount of work and the additional tasks set by our most recent reforms are in no way reflected in our educators’ salaries. Furthermore, these fabled sums are only reached after years, and years, of service. It was also not mentioned that the Ministry is abusing the system by employing teachers who are not really teachers and are not adequately remunerated either. Such teachers form a significant part of the sector. Then there are those who are being employed on a contract of service where a person must work a set number of hours per week and then invoice the ministry. These pseudo-self-employed teachers have irregular jobs that should not even be considered, let alone be given. Yet the ministry of education and employment is using them, going against all our trade unionistic principles.
- Teachers now have fewer students in class thanks to a new collective agreement
Even though it is true that the number of children in class has been reduced, what Lovin Malta does not seem to know is that there has also been a systematic reduction of benefits being granted. The reduced numbers are still very difficult to handle because of the exponential rise in children with social problems. Also, children with statements are having their entitlement revoked, leaving teachers with an added burden to deal with which would previously have been alleviated by the presence of an LSE. Less support leaves our teachers under a lot of pressure because the situation becomes more demanding and by far more challenging than ever before.
- Now, teachers’ progress from one salary scale to another is quicker than ever… and other financial schemes have also been added
Natural progression takes several years. The fast progression scheme is against payment, and thus not accessible to all, and includes long hours. The completion of these hours, in a year, is unrealistic. Then there are the LSEs who can only reach a scale 9 four years after having completed their studies, according to the collective agreement. In this same “historical” agreement, educators had also been promised a 20% rise which never came to fruition; hence our educators have serious misgivings about this collective agreement.
- Teachers are entitled (and encouraged!) to take paid study leave
Paid study leave is available, as much as time-off and special leave are, but the article attempts to dupe people into believing that all you have to do is ask, and you will receive. Union members regularly approach the union proving the opposite holds true. Departments are notorious for hiding behind requirements of service, stating that their services cannot be relinquished at that point in time and so leave is not granted. So, many do not get the study leave they request, despite supposedly being entitled to it. Time-off and special-leave follow the same fate. The only leave which is not hard to get is maternity leave, the rest is generally resisted.
- Finally, they get set weekly hours of ‘non-contact time’ with students
This part of the article was the cherry on the cake for many educators who actually braved their way through to this point. Lovin Malta again seems to be oblivious of the fact that due to a shortage of teachers and relievers these 150 minutes, 90 minutes or 15 minutes are not always being granted. The union was even compelled to issue directives on this issue, as KGEs were expected to complete all their work without being given any curriculum time. Not to mention primary school educators, whose curriculum time is subject to the presence of peripatetic teachers taking over the class. When these peripatetic teachers do not turn up for whatever reason, primary school teachers have no curriculum time.
Thus, the union feels that the article which Lovin Malta published with the intention of debunking myths of difficult working conditions in the educational sector, should only be seen as a misleading list of fabricated idyllic conditions, none of which reflect the reality of the daily grind.