Malta’s exam-heavy educational system is failing, Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) president Kevin Bonello said in reaction to a survey published last week showing that students are not being equipped with the necessary skills for working life.

The survey, carried out by the National Commission for Further and Higher Education, found that poor writing skills are making it hard for employers to fill vacancies. The national employee skills survey found that four out of 10 vacancies were reported to be hard to fill.

Clerical support workers, sales workers and craft workers are among the hardest to find.

The survey identified shortcomings in written communication as the main reason for vacancies not being filled (32.9 per cent), followed by lack of technical skills (32.1 per cent), poor problem-solving (30.9 per cent) and lacklustre teamwork (29.3 per cent).

Replying to questions by the Times of Malta, Mr Bonello said the survey confirmed that the exam-heavy educational system was not only failing the students that were not passing examinations but also the students who actually passed.

“This country’s obsession with examinations and certificates has forced teachers to concentrate on oceans of content instead of skills. As a consequence, even those with qualifications are likely to lack the skills to adapt to new situations and to face tests for which they cannot do their usual rote learning,” Mr Bonello said.

The MUT president said the union agreed with the Education Ministry that the system needed to change. He said that the MUT was appealing for this change to take place with caution and careful planning.

“If this country goes through yet another educational reform with haste and with lack of proper preparation and training and resources, nothing will change except for the cosmetics,” Mr Bonello said.

“One size fits all curricula dictated by end of Form Five examinations are a failure and they need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

The MUT president also said he was not surprised that employers struggled to fill vacancies due to poor English-writing skills. He said a “shocking” percentage of university students were failing their proficiency tests. Just last year, 65 per cent of candidates failed their English proficiency tests for entry into the Faculty of Education courses.

Mr Bonello argued that teachers needed to be allowed the space, time and flexibility to be able to adapt their teaching to their students and to concentrate on basic skills as opposed to just focusing on content.

“Twenty-first century skills need to be taught to our students as school. As an example, it is much more important to teach students how to research and how to look for information than spoon-feeding them with tonnes of information, most of which is irrelevant to them.

“One size fits all curricula dictated by end of Form Five examinations are a failure and they need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“Addressing them through a cosmetic change is as good as none,” Mr Bonello insisted.

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