Bernard Grech’s numbers nightmare

The Opposition Leader's numerical shortcomings have once again been laid bare, this time in the context of Education.

Last Sunday Opposition Leader Bernard Grech decided to try to wade into education policy, to showcase his “vision of excellence” for the education system in our country.

It may not surprise you that he failed to utter one example of his education policies. The same as with the rest of his “vision of excellence”, here the emphasis was on constant attacks on the Government’s policies, with no exposition of any alternatives.

Amongst the untruths he uttered the first was that teachers are being offered peanuts in terms of salary increases. He claimed this when both the Minister for Education and the Prime Minister have confirmed that the increases are very substantial.

Then, Bernard Grech reiterated his Budget “jibe” that, instead of building or completely renovating schools, the Government is only giving a lick of paint to crumbling schools. The fact is that three schools were opened this year, one of which was visited by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who stated, “this school is, indeed, brand new. The hull building, the historic building, has been preserved, it has been completely renovated with funds from NextGenerationEU.”

But the greatest gaffe the Leader of the Opposition made was when he said that under the Nationalist government, that is before 2013, in schools there were between six and 10 children in every class. Thus, he said, teaching felt like giving private lessons, with individual learning. In contrast, he said, now, because of the expansion of the population, the average number of students in school classes is up to 33.

Now that Bernard Grech is clueless about maths is a very well-known fact. However, it is one thing to say on national television that ten billion is a thousand million, and another to state that class sizes have increased from 6 per class to 33 because of population increases. For that to be true, you would need the population of students to have increased by a factor of six. Even in his hyperboles on population expansion, the most he claims is that it has doubled (actually it has increased by eight times less than what he claims). Dr Grech’s maths results must have been pretty dreadful for a doubling to lead to a sixfold increase!

Let us just do a quick fact check. By coincidence, on 25th October the NSO issued a press release that includes data on the average class size in primary and secondary schools. This indicates that the number of students per class ranges from a minimum of 17 in Year 1 to a maximum of 20 in Year 8. This means that the Leader of the Opposition has essentially make a claim about class sizes that is nearly double the real situation.

What about before 2013? Is he right? Well, the NSO’s archive includes a statement issued on 5th March 2014 which shows that, in 2012, not only were there no classes of between 6 and 10 students, but in fact classes were much larger than the current ones. In Year 1 there used to be an average of 20 students while in Year 7 there were more than 22 students. This means that classes nowadays have between 2 and 3 fewer students per class.

The reason why class sizes have fallen is because there has been a sharp increase in teacher numbers since 2013. In fact, there were 8,210 teachers at the end of the last Nationalist administration, while there are more than 10,200 educators now. This means an increase of almost 25%. Today there are around 49,000 students in primary and secondary education, or just 2,000 more than in 2012. This means that, while the number of teachers has increased by 25%, that of students rose by less than 5%.

The OECD’s ‘Education at a Glance publication’ indicates that, in primary schools across the OECD Member States, class sizes average 21 pupils, or four more than in Malta. At the same time, the average class size in secondary schools is 23, or four more than in Malta. Moreover, the publication states that, since 2013, class sizes have remained constant on average across OECD countries.

This shows that, rather than embarking on a policy that has increased class sizes, the current administration has actually reduced them greatly, made them better than the OECD average at a time when other countries failed to make any progress.

To say that the Opposition Leader is clueless also on this subject is too lenient an assessment.

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