NGO reaction to comments made by Mr. Charles Caruana Carabez, the Commissioner for Education in his Annual Report

The analysis and comments made by Mr. Charles Caruana Carabez, the Commissioner for Education, in his Annual Report are careless and misinformed. Furthermore, his recommendations are not grounded in the principles of fairness.

The Report, forming part of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s 2018 Annual Report, begins with an introductory section An Unjustified Sense Of Entitlement that seems to misunderstand and misrepresent the nature of fundamental human rights. In making an argument for equity rather than equality, he confuses matters by stating that, through equity, persons with disabilities are ‘given more rights’.

We are keen to underline that persons with disabilities are entitled to exercise all the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights embodied in the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and also in national legislation. A human rights approach based on equity acknowledges that, whilst persons with disabilities are entitled to exercise their fundamental human rights on an equal basis with all other persons, additional measures could be required and permitted in order to ensure this truly equal enjoyment. Affirmative legal, policy and practical measures are in fact adopted to ensure that persons with disabilities may effectively enjoy their rights. Contrary to the Commissioner’s understanding, affirmative action does not result in giving any person more rights.

We are concerned that, due to this fundamental misconception, many of the Commissioner’s findings and recommendations are seriously flawed.

The Report’s section Bullying Incidents Involving Foreign Students reflects our own observations that the transition to a multicultural classroom has been marked by tension and struggle in Malta. The challenges faced by educators, administrators, students and their families cannot be ignored. However, the Commissioner’s analysis provides a one-sided perspective that disregards the growing evidence based on the experiences of migrant and ethnic minority students in our schools. It is disconcerting that his evaluation appears to be steeped in cultural stereotypes and hearsays that fail to capture the complexity of the context. Indeed, the multifaceted experiences and realities experienced by each and every student seem to have been oversimplified.

We also note that the Commissioner ignores the demonstrated strengths and benefits of the pluricultural and plurilingual classroom. We believe that a classroom environment embracing different worldviews and cultural practices, encourages students to absorb knowledge and skills necessary to navigate an increasingly globalised world. Instead, the Commissioner seems to be advocating for separation and segregation.

The Commissioner observes that new aspects of bullying, namely by and within ethnic groups, could not have been predicted or anticipated by school management for staff training purposes. Yet he fails to note that the 2014 National Policy on Addressing Bullying Behaviour in Schools, classifies migrant children and children with an ethnic background as vulnerable and more susceptible to bullying. It is regretted that the Education Commissioner fails to assess whether this Policy is achieving its aims in relation to the victims and perpetrators of bullying. He also fails to examine whether any institution is responsible for having failed to respond to a migration phenomenon which was by no means unpredictable or unexpected.

Finally, we question why the Report contains no mention of the fundamental human right to education, coupled with the basic tenets of justice and equity. For us, this omission is particularly worrying since the Education Commissioner’s role is to empower all students by providing tools against maladministration, improper discrimination or abuse of power. It is the Commissioner’s core duty to strive to improve the educational services for all members of the community, especially its most vulnerable and marginalised.

The undersigned non-governmental organisations therefore flag the Commissioner’s report as inappropriate. We invite the Office of the Ombudsman and the House of Representatives not to take note of his key findings and recommendations. Our children deserve better. Our students deserve better.

Endorsed by:

  1. aditus foundation
  2. African Media Association
  3. Catholic Voices Malta
  4. The Critical Institute
  5. Dean’s Office, Faculty of Education, University of Malta
  6. Dean’s Office, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta
  7. Department of Gender Studies, University of Malta
  8. Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants
  9. Integra Foundation
  10. Isles of the Left
  11. Jesuit Refugee Service, Malta
  12. Kopin
  13. Malta Emigrants Commission
  14. Moviment Graffitti
  15. The People for Change Foundation
  16. Richmond Foundation
  17. Right 2 Smile
  18. Solidarity with Migrants Group
  19. Spark 15