Malta can aspire towards sustainable development and growth driven by a vibrant education system, which is fundamental to provide knowledge and skills that students need.
Several factors are hampering this progress and if the government does not focus on these urgent needs, then our future may not be as promising as we are being reminded it is on the eve of an election. The reasons underlying my statement are several.
Malta’s percentage of early school-leavers from education and training (aged 18-24) is highest in the EU. In 2020, it was 16.7 per cent compared to 23.8 per cent in 2010, still far higher than the EU member state target of below nine per cent by 2030.
Malta has the lowest birth rate within the EU, with 1.1 births per woman as recorded in 2019 compared to the EU average of 1.5 births.
This should serve to focus our efforts and resources towards having a population educated in foundation skills gained early in childhood.
This may not be easily within reach. The figures on illiteracy show that, in 2016, young Maltese students ( eight to 10 years) ranked lowest in the PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) among EU countries, scoring an average of 452 while EU member states scored above the 500 threshold.
Knowing the difficulties, it is appropriate to ask what the Education Department is doing about them.
Over three years, the Education Department has had four ministers, not good for a sector that entails a lot of planning.
Nationalist MP Clyde Puli expressed his concern when he noted there are still 5,000 students without a laptop, a contrast to a government offering internet vouchers to post-secondary students.
Commenting about the employment situation, the Central Bank of Malta said that, while early school-leavers may still find a job despite lacking basic qualifications, this compromises employability later in life: the lack of skills will have economic and social costs.
We propose rethinking education in its totality- Adrian Delia
Yet, the government is burying its head in the sand and keeps aggravating this volatile situation by inflating the public sector, hedging on its election prospects.
The Malta Chamber of Commerce and the Gozo Business Chamber noted that several of their members reported they were losing employees to public sector jobs even though they might earn less.
They suggested that the current economic circumstances warrant an independent review of public sector employment and resourcing to build a leaner but more efficient public administration.
Despite the incentives, stipends and scholarships, EY’s ‘Generate Youth Survey’ showed a staggering 70 per cent of Maltese students would opt for a future outside the country, which would lead to a brain drain.
The major underlying reasons were overdevelopment (68 per cent) and the environment (55 per cent). Perhaps the green spaces promised by the prime minister in certain localities may convince these students otherwise!
Minister Clyde Caruana did not mince his words: “We can’t content ourselves because school-leaving rates are down. The lowest denominator is not how many people don’t pass, it’s how many people do pass and how skilled we are. This is the elephant in the room we need to speak about.”
Instead, we propose rethinking education in its totality – using this unparalleled time to re-evaluate what and how we are teaching our students.
While we recognise the important role assessments play in education, they often differentiate high and low-performing students at a point in time that establishes winner and loser trajectories for life. This creates a limited purview of learning, achievement and the unique potential of every child and young adult.
Learner-focused, play-based pedagogy that fosters skills including creativity, critical thinking and collaboration, alongside traditional academic skills, is key to developing students who can better navigate the complex world and become our next generation of leaders and creators.
It’s time to change our approach to education and, especially, assessment, to guide children towards hands-on creative and engaging experience that nurture passion for lifelong learning.
Fact is that students may not re-enter classrooms they left. As we continue to navigate this pandemic, they will continue to face challenges that will draw on their socio-emotional skills.
We have a responsibility to build a future in which all children can flourish and where they can engage in meaningful learning experiences that integrate traditional academic skills with cognitive, creative, social, emotional and physical skills.
This is a critical moment to radically reform our education system. Let’s not squander it.
Adrian Delia, Nationalist MP