“Teaching today involves adapting to new challenges” – Themis Christophidou

A month ago, I had requested an interview with three officials from the education sector in both Malta and the European Union. These three indvduals were: the Maltese Minister for Education and Employment, Hon. Evarist Bartolo; the Malta Nationalist Party Secretary General & Spokesperson for Education, Human Development and Challenges of the 21st Century, Hon. Clyde Puli; and the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture in the European Commission, Themis Christophidou.

Up until today, we have only recieved a response from Ms. Christophidou. While we thank her for accepting the interview, here are her responses.

Note: Due to certain questions that have been asked, especially question number 8,  kindly note that these questions were sent to the European Commission on the 4th October 2018.

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Do you think that today’s formal educational system prepares students well for their future? If you agree that it does, can you give reasons as to why you think so?

European societies are experiencing significant changes, demographic and economic, including digital and technological innovations. Many of today’s jobs did not exist a decade ago and many new kinds of jobs will be created in the near future. This calls for new competences to be developed from an early age: digital, civic, entrepreneurship competences, as well as creativity, critical thinking, adaptability and problem solving.

In addressing the development of key competences in a lifelong learning perspective, support should be ensured at all levels of education, training and learning pathways: to develop quality early childhood education and care, to further enhance school education and ensure excellent teaching, to provide up-skilling pathways to low-skilled adults, as well as to further develop initial and continuing vocational education and training and modernise higher education.

Which subjects should be taught in all schools within the European Union as core subjects?

EU Member States have full autonomy in deciding about their national curricula and school organisation. In line with Article 165 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, the European Commission contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action. However, since 2006 the Commission has promoted a Key Competences Framework which has already inspired some EU countries to introduce competence-oriented curricula. A new Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning was adopted in May 2018. The eight key competences are: Literacy competence; Multilingual competence; Mathematical competence and competence in science, technology and engineering; Digital competence; Personal, social and learning to learn competence; Citizenship competence; Entrepreneurship competence; and Cultural awareness and expression competence. The Recommendation encourages Member States to enhance the development of eight key competences through all and any subjects in the school curricula.

Which existent areas in our formal education need improvement or more enforcement in your opinion?

In order to strengthen the development of key competences through formal education, it is necessary to adapt the teaching and learning approaches. In this respect, three main challenges have been identified: the use of a variety of learning approaches and contexts; support for teachers and other educational staff; and assessment and validation of competence development.

Which educational approach is the most effective when it comes to an individual’s/student’s knowledge on non-academic subjects, for example taxes, grants, bills, so on and so forth? Do you believe that the current educational system gives enough importance to these topics? If so, through which forms of education (formal, informal or non-formal) are these topics best addressed?

The Recommendation on Key Competences states that key competences (including knowledge, skills and attitudes) can be developed through a variety of learning approaches and environments. Some examples of good practice include:

  • Cross-discipline learning, partnerships between different education levels, training and learning actors, including from the labour market, as well as concepts such as whole school approaches with its emphasis on collaborative teaching and learning and active participation and decision-making of learners; cross-sectoral cooperation between education and training institutions and external actors from business, arts, sport and youth community, higher education or research institutions;
  • Acquisition of basic skills as well as broader competence development can be fostered by systematically complementing academic learning with social and emotional learning, arts, health-enhancing physical activities supporting health conscious, future-oriented and physically active life styles;
  • Learning methodologies such as inquiry-based, project-based, blended, arts- and games-based learning can increase learning motivation and engagement. Equally, experimental learning, work-based learning and scientific methods in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can foster development of a range of competences.
  • Learners, educational staff and learning providers could be encouraged to use digital technologies to improve learning and to support the development of digital competences.
  • Specific opportunities for entrepreneurial experiences, traineeships in companies or entrepreneurs visiting education and training institutions including practical entrepreneurial experiences, such as creativity challenges, start-ups, student-led community initiatives, business simulations or entrepreneurial project-based learning, could be particularly beneficial for young people.
  • Multilingual competence can be developed by close cooperation with education, training and learning settings abroad, the mobility of educational staff and learners and the use of eTwinning, EPALE and or similar on-line portals.

Is the European Union looking into alternative ways of teaching? If it is, which measures might be taken or looked into in order for them to be incorporated within our own educational system?

Developing competence-oriented approaches in schools calls for support for teachers and other educational staff. Good practice in this area includes embedding competence-oriented approaches to education, training and learning in initial education and continuing professional development; staff exchanges and peer learning, as well as peer counselling allowing for flexibility and autonomy in organising learning, through networks, collaboration and communities of practice; assistance in creating innovative practices, taking part in research and making appropriate use of new technologies, including digital technologies, for competence-oriented approaches in teaching and learning; guidance, access to centres of expertise, appropriate tools and materials.

Which elements of education in European Union countries (excluding Malta) do you think we should introduce in our own educational system? Kindly specify the countries from which we can take these elements from and which measures can be added to our own existing ones.

Education systems have to be tailored to specific contexts and challenges. ‘One size fits all’ policies do not appropriately address the needs of diverse learners in different European countries. Our strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET2020) promotes and supports cooperation and exchange of best practices at all education levels among Member States. A variety of tools and instruments are available to Member States such as working groups, peer reviews, peer learning activities, peer counselling. The Education and Training Monitor annually monitors progress towards the ET2020 benchmarks and help Member States identify challenges and contribute to evidence-based policy making. Malta’s own education policy makers and experts are best placed to identify the areas in which they could benefit by learning from other Member States. For example, in relation to early school leaving which remains stubbornly high in Malta, the experience of a country such as Portugal which has succeeded in driving rates down quickly is, potentially, of interest.

Malta is experiencing a shortage in the amount of teachers. This is mostly caused by the low wages given to teachers in the majority of Maltese schools. What do you suggest can be done to fix this issue? Kindly elaborate.

Teaching today involves adapting to new challenges due to a more diverse student population, collaborating with peers, using new technologies and being innovative. The 2017 Communication from the European Commission on school development and excellent teaching emphasises the need to make teaching careers more attractive and to change the paradigm of the profession from static to dynamic. Thus, a high salary is only the starting point of a strategy to increase the attractiveness of the profession. Several other elements may play a role in this respect such as support for continuous professional development, meaningful appraisal and feedback systems, collaboration between teachers, good career prospects and participation in decision making at school.

A few days ago, amendments to the Education Act were presented in Parliament. The Malta Union of Teachers said that one of the amendments stated that permanent teaching warrants will all be revoked and replaced by new warrants which will be renewed on the basis of professional development as well as a proficiency test. Do you think that this will be encouraging the ever decreasing amount of prospective teachers to pursue the path of teaching? Also, how do you think that this change will affect those whose current profession is that of a teacher?

High school outcomes are determined to a great extent by quality of teaching. It is therefore important for teachers to be able to continue developing their skills throughout their career, and to adapt them to the changing educational demands of learners. Investing in their continuous professional development and growth would help them to remain motivated. Similarly, teacher appraisals and feedback can help them change their teaching and classroom-management practices. According to the latest OECD International Survey on teachers and school leaders working conditions (TALIS), these practices are associated with a higher level of job satisfaction and motivation. For those who are considering becoming a teacher, far from being a disincentive, having good learning prospects could improve the attractiveness of the profession.

Considering students at a young age (at around 12/13 years of age) have to choose their own subjects, how can we make sure students are aware of the opportunities available to them with this choice, as well as having a clear idea of what the subject entails and its content? Kindly elaborate.

Children should be supported from an early age in developing, among other, their personal, social and learning to learning competence. This competence includes knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to better reflect upon oneself, manage one’s own learning and career, cope with uncertainty and complexity, as well as support one’s physical and emotional well-being. The students should be supported to identify and set goals, motivate themselves, and develop resilience and confidence to pursue and succeed at learning. This also presupposes well organised and targeted career education for all the students.

How do you plan to maintain education levels in the European Union and increase international opportunities for students? Kindly elaborate.

European Commission’s Erasmus+ Programme aims at supporting schools and other educational actors across Europe in developing learning through an international dimension. The Commission plans to boost the future Erasmus+ for all learners (pupils, students, trainees and apprentices) and teachers in the period 2021-2027, with the aim of doubling the number of participants and reaching out to learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. eTwinning is also an EU-funded online community for schools and school staff (teachers, head teachers, librarians, etc.) to communicate, collaborate, develop projects, share and be part of a learning community in Europe. During more than 10 years it has gathered over 600.000 teachers from nearly 200.00 schools across Europe.

Recently, Malta introduced the Vote16+, lowering the voting age to 16. How do you think students can be educated on this right with regards to rights and responsibilities?

At EU level, we invite Member States to foster the development of citizenship competences, which are considered among the Key Competences for Lifelong learning. They are defined as the ability to act as responsible citizen and to fully participate in civic and social life, understanding social, economic and political concepts. Thus, the lowering of the voting age to 16 raises the importance of citizenship education which supports students in becoming active, informed and responsible citizens.

Have you looked into this type of education being introduced at secondary level (for example, civic education)? If you have, which measures can be put in place in order to deliver this education impartially and with as little bias as possible?

On the basis of the 2015 Paris Declaration on Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education, the Commission has promoted exchange of good practice in teaching civic competences and promoting tolerance and non-discrimination. A Eurydice Report on Citizenship Education from 2017 looks in detail into Curriculum Organisation and Content, Teaching; Learning and Active Participation; Student Assessment and School Evaluation, as well as Teacher Education, Professional Development and Support related to citizenship education in countries across Europe.

Education and Training Monitor, annual publication on education issues in the EU Member States, providing quantitative and qualitative data, international comparison and country analysis, has this year focused on citizenship education and civic competences specifically.


What is your opinion on these matters? Where do you agree with Ms. Christophidou? Where do you disagree?

Written by: Bradley Cachia

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