Gifted students who learn faster than their classmates are not being catered for in most schools and this can lead them losing interest in learning.

There is an increasingly large number of children from the migrant population

A report released for consultation yesterday recommends that schools and teachers are provided with support to implement strategies to educate such gifted students.

Entitled An Early School Leaving Strategy for Malta, the report also speaks about setting up a high achievers’ learning zone to cater for the needs of these particular students.

Malta has no data on the number of gifted students and there is no systematic approach to gifted education.

“Provision for gifted students is ad hoc, predominantly provided on a school by school basis,” according to the report, which gives a snapshot of the education system in Malta.

The report lists more than 30 draft recommendations aimed at reducing the rate of early school leavers.

National Statistics Office director general Michael Pace Ross said the rate of early school leavers stood at 22.6 per cent last year.

For the first time, Malta had a figure that is comparable with that of other EU countries. The figure was calculated according to an international formula that took into account students between the ages of 18 and 24 who did not get their O levels, he explained.

Before this figure was calculated, a method was used that was not compatible with other EU countries and the figure of early school leavers was put at 36.9 per cent.

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said that despite this improvement there was still a lot of work to be done.

The rate of 22.6 per cent was still double the ideal of 10 per cent that the EU strived to achieve through the EU2020 strategy, he said.

The report, he said, listed various recommendations such as the need to set up structures to ensure students in need of help were identified at an early stage.

It looked into what may be pushing students to leave school at an early stage and suggested ways of tackling them.

Among its recommendations, for example, the report speaks about spreading vocational education in secondary schools.

This type of education – based on hands-on work – would better engage those students who are not inclined towards academic subjects and ensure they remain on the education path.

The report points out that any strategy to address the rate of early school leavers had to take into account the demographics of today’s students, that there were more students born to single mothers and there was also an increase of immigrants in Malta, for example.

“School leaders and teachers… emphasise that there is an increasingly large number of children from migrant populations and that, unless these children and their parents are supported with proactive measures that allow them to integrate as quickly as possible, then these children… will be at risk of disengaging from the education system,” the report reads.

The consultation process will come to an end in mid-May when a national conference is held.

At the end of the month, the Government will be able to inform the EU about its target percentage by which it aims to cut the rate of early school leavers in line with the EU2020 strategy.

Monitoring school leaving

The report recommends the creation of an early school leaving monitoring unit responsible for ensuring an integrated and coordinated approach.

An advisory early school leaving board should also be set up to work with colleges and schools and help them determine the needs of students at risk of disengaging and ensure early intervention.