The fourth and final education officers’ meeting was held last Wednesday at the KSU Board Room. Leading it was current KSU Education Commissioner Malcolm Zammit and KSU Education Coordinator Daniel Vella Fondacaro, with their respective replacements for next year, Ryan Falzon and Francienne Muscat, also in attendance along with representatives from a number of student organisations.
Malcolm Zammit started the meeting by speaking about a survey that KSU had sent out to University of Malta (UoM) students regarding the current usage of University online portals such as the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), an initiative that was complemented with meetings held with the IT services where feedback concerning the improvement of current technological tools was provided. Zammit highlighted the importance of a top-down approach, with every member of staff from the deans to the lecturers on the same page where the proper implementation of such technology is concerned.
Zammit also brought up KSU’s suggestion regarding the standardized feedback of assignments that would have obliged every lecturer to provide qualitative feedback on the front page of every corrected assignment. This proposal was brought to the table of the Senate. Despite lobbying by student representatives on Senate, this proposal was refused on the basis that the University already operates by an open-door policy, meaning that students are allowed to visit lecturers in their offices to ask for any feedback. A negotiated deal by KSU whereby assignment-feedback would only have been obligatory for those students who received a fail mark was also rejected.
The Education Commissioner spoke strongly against the induction of the Legal Notice 76/2014 that grants the Minister of Education the right to access the data of every student enrolled in a Maltese educational institution. He insisted that the notice’s inclusion of ‘research purposes’ as a reason for the passing of this new law was too vague and that any use of students’ academic data could be accessed through a collaboration with educational institutions who will provide each enrolled student with an index number. This way, the privacy of students will be respected. KSU is proposing a number of recommendations to the Office of the Information and Data Protection Commissioner and the Ministry of Education and Employment.
A new education reform, that of the ‘banding’ system that will see primary school students filtered into classes according to their Year 4 results in English, Maltese and Mathematics, was also spoken about. Zammit pointed out that the 2011 switch from streamed classes to mixed-ability ones was too sudden, with not enough research having been conducted beforehand and no transition period that would have rendered the change smoother. However, he also stated that not enough details regarding the new ‘banding’ method, such as the ways a student can move from one band to another, have been made public. Also mentioned was the lack of attention that has so far been shown by professionals towards the actual primary school students whose education will soon be altered.
Improvements have also been made in the annual Summer Work Scheme. Besides the large increase in education placements that will be made available to University of Malta students this summer, Malcolm Zammit claimed that KSU will adopt a more active role in ensuring that students’ placements are relevant to the course they are following.
Other issues brought up during the meeting included KSU’s and the Library’s Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) campaign aimed at providing information to current students about the availability of digitally archived theses and dissertations from past UoM students, and reminders about the extension of library hours for the current exam period and of the Student Representatives Elections that is due to be held on the 22nd of May.
Francesca Borg Taylor-East, present at the meeting as a representative for the Students’ Philosophical Society (SPS), brought up statistics from the 2013 O’Levels that saw a 37% failure in both English and Maltese. She partially attributed this to a misconception on the part of the education system that all Maltese students are bilingual. As an alternative, she suggested the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) teaching method that ultimately focuses on increasing student proficiency, not only in the reading and writing of English but in the speaking and listening aspects of it too. A similar method has now also been adapted for the teaching of Maltese.