Soon after appropriate legislation on vocational education and training (VET) had been passed through Parliament I had penned articles encouraging employers to think about the soon-to-come implications of these measures.

The clock has been ticking and come this September 2019 in all of Malta’s State schools vocational subjects are being introduced and made available to all students from as young as 13 years of age.

The Ministry of Education’s “My Journey” programme will start making vocational subjects available from Form 3 in all of the State schools.

If you are thinking of turning your face elsewhere please stop to realise the important implication of this development, that all of the present so-called “academic” subjects will henceforth have to have a vocational facet or aspect.

This is all a very important educational milestone for our country, and if anyone is thinking about now shifting emphasis from the implications of “vocational” to “applied”, then the ministry is fully au courant of the need that every single industry in our country now needs to pull up its socks up and advise the ministry of the “occupational standards” that it would want the students to have achieved.

A lot about this now imminent change was imparted to educational professionals and to, regrettably, not as many employers, at the excellent workshop which the “My Learning” team recently organised in a local hotel.

Perhaps, the main point that came out is that it is in fact vocational education which leads to the applied or applicable level needed to be achieved in any industry.

The ministry’s officials are all very conscious of the fact that quality assurance will have to be part of this whole new system, and it is this which will show if students are achieving the “wanted” standards across the board, with the main objective being constantly focused on giving both more and better skills (tickets) to students, but this however in a project that is much more about standards than just mere knowledge.

All of the present so-called academic subjects will henceforth have to have a vocational facet or aspect

All of this is being visioned and planned as a very important change in our secondary school education system.

It is, as I have often said, one which is inspired by the ideal of “Nobody is for throwing away”, and that applies even to all those students who, for some reason or other, may have come over as simply not being interested in any form of schooling.

It is always a big challenge to find ways and means of turning all learning into experiential learning. And, yes, an integral part – and difficulty – of the new project is the real need to see that the element of applicability will be present in everything that students will be working on during VET subject teaching.

It will have to become an integral aspect of all subjects: from English to Maltese to Maths, to Physics, to PSED. Whatever is being taught now, and whatever new areas may have to be introduced in the future.

But overcoming this challenge is now factually the only way of ensuring that for the students and their lives education is at one and the same time a useful, beneficial and also an enjoyable reality, and not simply a necessary evil or period that the student has to go through life.

It is, at one and the same time, a reality that VET requires a lot of flexibility. In mindsets, in students, teachers and parents. For a very long time the professional observers of our educational scene have been telling us that students need an experience that is relevant both for the now and for the future.

There have been far too many signs that students are not learning how to know, how to be, how to do, and, especially among the ever growing swathe of autistic young people, how to be with others. But, as Marika Tonna from Business First said at the business breakfast, technology and ICT are enablers across the board which can really help us not to lose one single student.

And all of this is not static thinking.

It is poised both in the here and now, as well as in the future.

The Ministry of Education and labour is already in possession of a skills forecast showing what Malta will need years down the line from now up to 2030.

The challenge is to turn what may temporarily often be appearing as a skills deficit into a haven of available workers that can satisfy the needs for can-do people in the professional, technical, administrative, and scientific jobs that will be highest in demand as the essential nature of the economy’s employment reality will be demanding.  

These are exciting times in Malta’s education scene. Yes, it really is achievable to aim for not one single young man in our beloved country to be lost.

John Consiglio is chairman of the Education Consultative Council at the Malta Financial Services Authority.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece