Changes in the educational settings cannot solely take place from a financial perspective at the expense of quality education and efficient learning.
MAPSSS refers to the National Audit Office report entitled: Performance Audit Class Size in State Primary School issued In July 2015. MAPSSS acknowledges that there are regional differences in the school population size that reflects the demographic change in the location. However, one cannot ignore that a number of state primary schools premises are beyond their carrying capacity not only because of the demographic dynamics in the locality but also due to the number of ‘out-of locality’ students that are granted the possibility to attend in a different school from their place of residence for valid reasons. This also includes students from families of non-Maltese origin who are residing here on a temporary or permanent basis and who sometimes arrive in the middle of the scholastic year. The number of these students is substantially on the increase. In some cases, such schools are also being burdened beyond their logistic, planimetric and infrastructural capability. Hence one cannot ignore that whereas some state schools in the primary sector have a decline in population, other schools are overpopulated with the risk of compromising the health and safety of students and staff within the premises. This is further accentuated in older schools which have been subjected to haphazard additions throughout the past decades due to pressure to create more learning space. Moreover, as the Audit Report itself states, a high majority of the classrooms size is already below the recommended regulations to host a full class.
MAPSSS insists that health and safety regulations have to be respected. Moreover, the schools infrastructure should enhance the expectations of the education process in this day and age in view of the changes in technology and the provision of other facilities such as sports facilities and adequate open spaces that may be utilised in co-curricular activities
MAPSSS agrees that more effort can be done to ensure that resources are redistributed effectively among schools as suggested by the Audit report but this should not take place at the expense of or priority over effective learning. Moreover, the redistribution should however not take into consideration only the school population or the economics and statistics but also the specific needs of the community serviced by the school.
The education experience, particularly in the primary cycle, should not be considered as successful or otherwise based only on the scores of the core subjects, as understood by the said Audit Report. The correlation between the scores and class population is only indicative, one cannot ignore the fact that various social and cultural factors determine the students’ performance in exams. This highlights the need of more research in this area. 30 students in each class does not allow for a child-centred approach as established in the National Curriculum Framework and the Education Strategy Framework. Whereas the economies of scales have to be reviewed, one cannot push the classes to such numbers at the detriment of quality education and effective learning. Classes with over 20 students might hinder teachers from providing individual attention and necessary guidance to the students and limit communication with parents/guardians for the detriment of the child. On the other hand one cannot ignore that very small classes with just a few students, will limit the development of life skills which are essential to the overall growth and advancement of all children. MAPSSS agrees with point 12 of the Executive summary and a holistic study should be undertaken to determine the appropriate class size.
In order to have a more comprehensive approach the Audit should have included various stakeholders to be interviewed and not only ‘key personnel at the Education Directorates’. This exercise should have included members of the Schools Senior Management Teams, Teachers, Parents and Students as these stakeholders are constant participants in the education process. For MAPSSS these are the Key Personnel in the Education System.
The paradigm shift away from ‘one-size fits all’ but towards flexibility should be reflected in the class size that allows for a child-centred approach not only in primary education but also in middle and senior schools. Generalisations from case studies may undermine the particular contexts that students are experiencing in schools and which hence determine their learning process. Such generalisations may compromise the child-centred approach which teachers try to address through their professional approach in collaboration with parents.
Parents feel that a class population of more than 10 students but less than 20 students would allow for more individual attention, more pedagogical care and less possibility of bullying and hence contribute to a more positive school experience that is conducive to a more effective learning process – surely a long term investment for the Maltese Islands. Consequently, in view of this long-term investment, changes in the educational settings cannot solely take place from a financial perspective at the expense of quality education and efficient learning.