The educational system is producing a workforce that is ill-equipped to engage in critical thinking, a group of academics warned on Friday.  

In an open letter written to a number of government ministers on Friday, a group of 40 academics from the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics said that the education system is failing to produce critical minds. 

“The current approach to education rewards rote learning [the act of memorising curricula] and leads to a workforce that is ill-equipped to deal with problems that require critical and innovative thinking,” the letter reads.  

“As scientists, academics, and employers, we experience this reality every day — students and employees alike frequently require upskilling to deal with today’s dynamic and challenging reality.”

Poor understanding of science of IT 

The academics say that while there have been a significant number of initiatives over the past few years, recent statistics show not enough students are taking up science, maths, and engineering-related studies.

“More broadly, we still encounter sixth form level students who think of computer science as concerned with fixing physical computers, or who think of science as a prescribed set of lab experiments,” the letter reads. 

Educational programs are not nourishing students’ curiosity to pursue studies in these areas important areas, they warn. 

This issue has exacerbated the country’s reliance on third-country nationals for staffing high-end and technical jobs. 

The letter was sent to Education Minister Justyne Caruana, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana and Innovation Minister Owen Bonnici.

“For a number of years, we have been seriously considering options of how we can help our country have a workforce with the right skillset and frame of mind,” they say. 

What are the academics proposing? 

The group put forward a three-pronged proposal that they say could be developed into a comprehensive, long-term nationwide strategy.

First, the academics say call for a focus on so-called STEM thinking the focus on concepts that originate from science, technology, engineering, and maths.

This, they say, should be taught in primary and secondary schools as part of the basic curriculum. 

“Whilst we have syllabi in place for our students to acquire STEM knowledge, this is not leading to creative, computational and critical thinking in our society,” the letter reads. 

The academics say that such thinking goes beyond a specific career path and includes universal problem-solving skills.

“A workforce possessing these thinking tools is a necessity for a Maltese society capable of evolving. The current literacy hurdles and misconceptions - such as those related to gender - surrounding STEM can be bypassed through alternative pedagogical approaches which emphasise the communication of complex concepts to students of various ages whilst keeping them engaged and motivated.”

The next proposal is for dedicated programmes for STEM just like those for sports and art schools.

Students who show promise, they say, can excel and advance quicker in those subjects if given the right training. 

“We propose there would be post-secondary programmes dedicated for STEM subjects. Highly talented students are unlikely to find the covered content in schools stimulating enough. Students with an excellent track record in STEM should be acknowledged and offered the possibility,” the letter reads. 

Finally, they call for a new resource centre to encourage “engaged research”. 

The centre would be focused on engaging the public in research activities, attracting funding for such research initiatives and encouraging student exchanges and international collaborations - all with the ultimate aim of increasing the number of students in STEM subjects.

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