Bash the teacher

▪️ Bash the teacher ▪️ Gender parity ▪️ In the dark ▪️ I’m alive

Schools in Malta seem to have become a battlefield.  According to a report by the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society and the University of Malta, a quarter of 11- to 15-year-olds experience fights at school on most days, and another 11% every single day. This also happens on most days for a quarter of 8- to 11-year-olds, while a further 25% do not avoid a fight at least once a week.

It would appear that academic pressure, peer bullying, spaces for play taken over by development, pollution in neighbourhoods, stress, boredom, loneliness, and anxiety all “lurked beneath the outer veneer of life satisfaction and well-being” that the results of the study highlighted.

Carmel Cefai, the lead academician in the study, also says that the problems in schools are linked to a decreasing liking for school with age, relative lack of autonomy and participation in decision-making in the family, lack of physical exercise and excessive screen time, and negative moods among adolescent girls.

A closer look at the findings showed that not all the children are OK – 9% of adolescents frequently found solace in self-harm; 17.3% of seven- to eight-year-olds interviewed experienced bullying and reported being hit twice or more during the past month, 21.7% were called unkind names, while 23.1% were excluded by their peers. 

Particular groups of children and young people – mostly those from a lower socio-economic status, a migrant background, or with a disability – reported a lower level of well-being and less satisfaction with various aspects of their lives when compared to their peers.

The social and mental issues prevailing in many schools are undoubtedly also responsible for cases of teachers being harassed, abused, and attacked.  The latest incident was that of the MCAST lecturer who was blooded by a student after he was asked to leave the lecture room.  It is being said that this student had had several instances of rage and violence at MCAST and in other schools.  Anecdotal evidence from talking to various educational professionals point to many cases that are unreported or buried by the school authorities.

The MCAST classroom altercation gained traction on social media after a video of the incident went viral.

Clayton Brincat, an assistant head in a local school, told the magazine Gwida that verbal and physical abuse against teachers is a reality and happens all too frequently.  He claims that this is one of the reasons why many educators are abandoning the profession, citing lack of respect for the profession, not to mention poor working conditions.

The reality I am writing about is not helped by the attitude of school authorities and the Education Ministry, that fall over themselves to ignore the problem, indeed to stoke it further through ill-considered practices.  Discipline in schools, and even in high educational institutions, has gone to the dogs.  The “rights of the student” take precedence above all, with hardly any thought given to “responsibilities”.  Students and parents have made it a habit of going to the Education Ministry, if not to the Minister himself, to air their grievances against school staff and receive sympathetic hearings.

The phenomenon is, of course, not just local.  It is threatening to assume pandemic proportions in many countries, so much so that it has become the subject of hundreds of research papers and been taken up by various international institutions, such as the UN, the OECD, and educational commissions in Europe and elsewhere.

Various studies have attributed the problem to a combination of trends originating during the Covid pandemic; a lack of trust in our institutions   ̶   particularly law enforcement   ̶   and the toxic, divisive, contentious times we live in. They are all interacting together.  Educational and social experts warn that, if policy-makers do not address the issues concerned now, even more dire consequences will result.

“Our students are sending us warning shots. Literal warning shots,” says Peter Balas, a principal at an American school.  Thank God, in Malta we do not have the school shootings that are so common in the USA, but we would be foolish to think that this cannot happen here as well.  This is why we need to heed the appeal of Mr Brincat to “do something now, before it is too late”.

Gender parity

Some misogynists would argue that men and women are from different planets.  That is highly disputable, but it seems that, when it comes to the world of work, the evidence shows they are worlds apart. 

According to the European Working Conditions Telephone Survey conducted in 2021, 60% of workers in the European Union were surrounded by more co-workers of their own gender than of the other. Only one-fifth worked in mixed-gender workplaces where the shares of women and men were roughly equal.  And two-thirds had a male boss.

Working time is another big divider.  On average, men in the EU spent a little over 42 hours at work every week compared to 37 hours per week by women.  In Malta, men worked 40.5 hours to women’s 36.8 hours.  One reason for this is that women are more likely to work part-time.  According to EU data, in the third quarter of 2022 around one-third of employed women (28%) were working part time; the share of men was 8%. 

I hate it when I hear some men say that their wives “do not work”.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  It is more likely that they work more than them.  We all know that women spend many hours engaged in unpaid work, such as housework, cooking or caring for children or other relatives. Here the picture is more than reversed: in 2021 women spent 13 hours more per week in unpaid work than men.

Photo: Sarah Chai

At the end of the day, women end up with the longer working week   ̶   a combined 70 hours compared with men’s 63. That accumulates annually to the equivalent of eight full-time weeks more work per annum.  In Malta, the difference is around 13.5 full-time weeks, compared to say 3.9 weeks in France.

The substantial difference in fewer hours in paid work could be one of the reasons why a slightly higher share of women report a good work-life balance (82%) than men (80%).  Still, having a good work-life balance does not exclude conflicts between working and private life   ̶   women experience these conflicts more frequently than men.

Women find it more difficult to switch off: more women (29%) than men (25%) surveyed worried about work always or often when not at work. And more women felt exhausted, with 28% reporting they felt too tired after work to do housework, compared with 21% of men. This is doubtless connected to the bigger burden of housework women face: 74% of women did daily housework and cooking in 2021, compared with 42% of men.

Rebalancing the share of paid and unpaid work between men and women is therefore fundamental for gender equality.  That would most probably have a higher impact on the fertility rate in Malta than financial incentives.

In the dark

I associate Mtaħlebwith picnics on a sunny Sunday afternoon in spring or lying down face up on a mild winter night gazing at the stars.  I would definitely not enjoy being locked up in a room in pitch darkness.  Ok, I’m not saying I would be afraid of the ‘babaw’, but for some reason the darkness always plays weird tricks on the mind in such situations.

Imagine, then, what the effect would be on a woman locked up there a mere two days before the New Year is ushered in.  It happened just over two years ago, but the event came to light recently when the woman’s partner was arraigned in court.  Following an argument between the two, the 44-year-old man locked the screaming and crying woman in his countryside room and left.

What made this more interesting than the usual tiff between partners is that the man in question is a police constable.  I don’t know whether this was the first time he had “arrested” somebody, but the man apparently doesn’t know the difference between a legal and an illegal arrest.  In his defence, he claimed that he feared his partner would hit him with some of the farming tools. He later told the police that she had previously pointed a shotgun and hurled a stone at him and even poured fuel on his bed.  The Magistrate hearing the case was not convinced.

Photo: Pixabay

The constable told the police officer who arrested him, this time quite legally, that his partner was mentally unstable.  The Court heard, however, that the constable himself had needed help for alcohol abuse and depression. Having been informed that the constable had undergone a rehabilitation programme since then and was continuing to undergo treatment and doing well, the magistrate just put him under probation for three years.  

Thank God that this particular case did not end in excessive violence.  Domestic violence is all too real and very much around us. Its often devastating effects — psychological, social, and economic; short-term and long-term — rebound on families, children, and the community as a whole.  Considering the extent of the problem in our society, one wonders how much importance is being given to comprehensive and extensive premarital counselling to intending couples on how to manage their marital relationship.

It is rather odd that one is required to attend lessons and sit for an examination in order to drive a car, but then can simply marry somebody without any requirement to undergo some kind of training and education.  No wonder so many marriages and relationships end up on the rocks.

I’m alive

Some 400 centuries ago, hunting parties of early humans relentlessly pursued their prey – mobile herds of deer and wild boar   ̶   across the frozen landscape of central Europe.  They encountered brutal winters and the hard going of huge, endless forests. But these early humans from the Middle East brought with them their technologies and their inventiveness. And they also brought music.

In 2009, archaeologists discovered the oldest known musical instruments in a remote cave in south-west Germany  – four flutes that generated tonal differences. One, made of a vulture wing bone, is about a foot long.  Others, made from the ivory of mammoth tusks, produced a deeper tone.  The discovery revealed that these early musicians clearly had leisure time not only to play and create cave art but to make instruments.

Photo: AP/Daniel Maurer

Along with diet, culture, technology, and social relationships, music became embedded in our brains over a period of 200,000 years.  Music is a key ingredient of -the balance of the mind and possibly one of the greatest healing factors for our stressed-out brains and minds.

The importance of music in all cultures and eras is evident from the earliest choral music in ancient Egypt to the Classical and Romantic symphonies of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Music is enjoyed by people of all ages around the world. In the words of Plato, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”.  

Communication is integral to our mental health, so too is music.  Music is unique in that it engages more areas of the brain simultaneously than any other activity of daily life.  These include the parts involved in hearing and listening, movement, attention, language, emotion, memory and thinking skills and, amazingly, all four lobes of the cerebral hemispheres and the brain stem.  Music is important in promoting mental wellbeing.  Its positive effects are a result of its impact on long-lasting emotions and the level of physiological activation.

We need no better example of the rousing effects of music than Prokofiev’s ‘1917, Symphony No. 1’, known as ‘the Classical’.  It is packed with the most uplifting melodies. The final movement especially, marked ‘Vivace’ (which means ‘lively’), practically bursts with happiness. 

When I’m feeling stressed or down, I find a walk in Sant’ Anton Gardens really helpful.  Of course, that isn’t always possible.  So, what I’m listening to while writing this piece is Delius’ ‘On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring’.   It conjures up the beauty and serenity of a secluded garden which I find instantly calming and restful.  If the classics are not your thing, however, try to find something that makes you feel good and wanting to shout ‘I’m alive’ with Celine Dion.

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