The Union of Professional Educators Voice of the Workers is very concerned about the statements issued recently whereby it is being suggested that online teaching should become an integral part of the teaching process in our schools in a blended environment. Yet again, our educators are being flung into a scenario where they are left in a state of utter chaos.
To start off with, despite the sterling job that teachers have been doing, they have been attacked by people who are ignorant of the huge amount of work which goes into the preparation of lessons delivered online. These lessons contemplate a complete alternative scenario to the traditional teaching methods they all have been trained for, and seamless as some may see the flow as being, it is very stressful and tiring for our educators to keep up with this shift.
Our educators complied with this alternative method of teaching primarily because they felt they needed to be there for their students, and many started making the shift even before being prompted to do so by the Ministry. This however, was never intended to be a scenario which was meant to last, or even less one which was meant to become part and parcel of their daily lives. It was just an interim strategy, intended to patch up a vertiginous hole in the educational system created by a global pandemic.
What we are finding out now is that these educators are being expected to possibly take up these practices indefinitely, and run them alongside the traditional methods once all is over. Such suggestions come, as always, from people who do not seem to know that a lesson online and a traditional lesson are very different in nature and execution. Thus, are our educators being expected to prepare two lesson plans for each lesson and run them alongside each other? Are they being expected to do double the work so as to cater for uncertainty? Our educators are already over-worked at this point in time adapting existing work and are being left in the dark as to what they need to do next.
The union believes that, that which was adopted as a temporary measure and which is taxing our teachers’ personal lives in terms of preparation, cannot become part of what the ministry insists as being “the new normal”. First and foremost, not everything is teachable online, practical subjects cannot be taught online, and certain concepts in all subjects demand to have direct interaction with students. Secondly, how can anyone expect one person to keep an eye on students in class while at the same time following chat boxes online and PowerPoint presentations online, without there being a negative impact on the delivery of the lesson? How can one expect one teacher to take on two roles at the same time? Furthermore, our teachers usually prepare their syllabi during the summer months; they now need more time to prepare because they have been put in a position where material they do not usually teach in one year group is bound to spill over from the previous year. How, we ask, are they to prepare if they do not have an idea of what kind of delivery they are being expected to make?
The Hon. President of Malta expressed his expectation for online lessons to continue taking place to cater for children who are unwell, hospitalized or being treated abroad. Again, with all due respect to his role, and to the good intentions behind his statement, the union feels he is not in touch with the implications and the insurmountable complexity of what he is requesting. In an ideal world, with top-notch technological devices at school and top-of-the-range fast internet connection, with no glitches to the system, even then what he is asking for would be very difficult. Let alone then in schools with déclassé technology and an internet connection chugging along under the burden of tens of users accessing the service simultaneously and causing it to trip at regular intervals.
The UPE demands that, when making such statements, rather than resorting to sci-fi opinions coming from people who are not in touch with the daily reality of schooling, the government asks the stakeholders who live the reality on their skins, and to lucidly verify what is applicable. What is being depicted here is nothing more than a fantastic imagined recipe for failure, which will ultimately fail our students and demoralise our educators.
Ultimately, the final green light to go ahead and implement this strategy is being granted by MEDE to the MUT. Given the historical number of errors it has made in the past, one can only hope that this time the MUT will bear the educator in mind, and do what is necessary to safeguard our educators, rather than burden them yet again with additional work and stress which is by no means justifiable.