no Student Left behind

It's Monday, the sixth of May 1968 in Paris. The national student union and the union of university teachers are marching together for a common cause. They are marching against the police invasion at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris. They are fighting for equality and social justice in the education establishment. They are fighting for the principles their country was built on. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Together they eventually brought down the authoritative De Gaulle administration.

Thirty-eight years later the bold French are at it again, this time against Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Students and unions are marching against a law which will authorize employment termination without justification against persons aged under twenty-six. They will not allow that their livelihood be disposed of so readily. Eventually, Dominique de Villepin did not get elected as President.

It is October the twenty-third 2008. Rome's streets are sprawling with some thirty-thousand students and vigiliant policemen. They are fighting against the 'Gelmini reform' which will cut 8 billion euros in the education budget, lay off teachers, shut down schools and privatise universities. Simultaneously they are fighting for immigrant rights which have been harshly threatened under the new Berlusconi regime.

It is January 2009 in Malta and students are being used as pawns in a big man's game. Teachers unions demand a substantial increase in university lecturers wages. If not, they will pretty much boycott our education. On the other side of the coin the concerned government authority doesn't seem to care, only going as far as issuing politically cheap statements which seem to advocate student's welfare but which in reality are only intended to safeguard its political ground amongst students. The leftist parties seem pretty much mute about the whole affair. The student's council will organise a rally, a step in the right direction perhaps, but is it enough?

Any person of sound mind would tell you that in order to ensure a healthy and stable academic status in the country then it has to be compensated for. Moreover, the fact that people's pockets are sucked dry because of a precarious economic situation adds to the complexity of the problem. In this regard, if we truly are to become a center of excellence in Europe or at least respected amongst our counterparts for our educational standards, then the lecturers cause seems to merit some justification. In fact, for the past weeks or months when this whole ordeal erupted I was rather supportive of the educators' cause and wondered why on earth we did not, as students, support them.

But I have been infused with a degree of skepticsim. Well not skepticism but the need for a well thought out reform in the education sector. For unlike the situation in France, the student-teacher union bond is not so straightforward.

First things first, I think we need to untie the puppet's chord that binds us to its master (be it government or stubborn union) and become free-thinking individuals and shapers of our own destiny. We should put aside those who we voted for last March and come up with broad solutions together. We need to destroy the pawn culture and find it within ourselves to create the we-mean-business-culture of our French and Italian counterparts. If they can win, we can win too. Some may cringe and assume that this would be some nasty revival of the Student Left and if that is to be its term, then so be it. I have no shame to form part of such a movement and I don't think that you should either. It's not about Marxist revolution, it's about our dignity and rights as students.

Secondly we need to do away with the please-all attitude and discuss that which is truly in our best interests and, equally important, the interests of future generations of students. In this current scenario that is developing I have personally come up with a very basic and rudimentary theory:
  • An increase in wages is justified if:-
  1. A system is put in place which rewards and promotes educators strictly on academic merit and not political or other connections;
  2. A system is put in place which ensures that care-free and non-dedicated educators are appropriately penalised. Perhaps we should strive to implement a well-thought out system whereby students themselves can assess their educators;
  3. Educators strive to better themselves and their professional work on a continuous basis
If educators can guarantee students such an outcome only then will I support them to the fullest ,rally side by side with them and support their democratic right to industrial action. It might temporarily hinder my academic progress but I know that the end result will be far better then the present status-quo.

Students, rise up. We deserve much better.

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