Educating our children has become a feat too big to handle for this government. I write this with a heavy heart as I read report after report and watch news clip after news clip, all pointing to the systematic failure by this administration.

My grief is even harder to contain when I recall how past successive Nationalist governments placed education at the heart of our economic, social and national policy, only to watch the Labour government throw it to the dogs.

A recent report by the Matsec board found that one out of every three students born in 2002 failed to obtain a pass in at least five Sec subjects. They are likely to become early school leavers unless remedial action is taken. Malta has the highest rate of school leavers in the EU.

This week I met unions that represent the interests of educators. As we discussed our ideas and the educators’ priorities, the independent media was firing one story after another spelling out what the government tried to hide in broad daylight.

From rotten fruit and vegetables being served to our children to students having to rise as early as 5am to avail themselves of school transport, the shortcomings in the education system never cease to surprise parents and teachers alike. But the news that children in St Paul’s Bay and ┼╗ejtun were having to attend classes in prefabricated containers probably topped it all.

This is yet another example of the consequences of the government’s lack of forward planning. Its drive to bring economic expansion through population growth is putting a serious strain on the country’s infrastructure. The government did not do the sensible thing and upgrade the country’s road, environmental, health and education infrastructure before the demand increased. The result is that the country’s essential services are not coping.

Over the past years, the government held back from investing in capital expenditure, preferring instead to boast the Budget surplus. But that surplus meant our children are having to sit in prefabricated units rather than in the state-of-the-art classrooms Nationalist governments delivered each year.

The government says Malta is becoming a victim of its own success. I say children, patients, pensioners should never be the victims of anything. The government’s economic policy is hurting the most vulnerable members of society: those forced to use public services because they cannot afford otherwise.

Clearly, our children are the ones being left behind by this government and, with them, parents and educators are being hit by the sheer ministerial neglect in our education system. We are now faced with multiple cases of violence at school. A recent survey among educators concluded that nine out of 10 were the victims of aggression. The fact that 90 per cent of teachers say they are the victims is beyond wrong. It shows there is a systematic failure in our schools and in our society.

The problem is compounded by the fact that schools lack basic security. Most of them are free-for-all zones, where practically anyone can enter and leave with relative ease. The government’s budget for security barely covers the needs of 10 schools, a very small fraction of the number of schools managed by the Education Ministry. Only half of government colleges have a prefect of discipline.

Our classrooms today need to reflect, need to be a microcosm of tomorrow’s world

The unions put forward suggestions on how security in schools can be improved but the government simply ignored them. Hopefully, after the latest spate of attacks on teachers, it will finally wake up and start addressing the problem.

We, both as Opposition but mostly as the political party responsible for setting up and implementing the state-of-the-art education system that bears fruit in the economic boom we are experiencing till today, will be monitoring developments on this serious issue. Once we pronounce ourselves, we will be constructive and critical to ensure children, parents and teachers receive the treatment they deserve in an advanced country like ours.

To improve our education system and ensure students are prepared for life in the 21st century we need to look at what life will be like in 10, 20 years’ time. Our world will be more multicultural, more mobile and infinitely more technologically driven. Artificial intelligence is here, not in the future any longer. Our classrooms today need to reflect, need to be a microcosm of tomorrow’s world.

We need to expose our children to a more open world, yet, teach them our values, not least the value of respect towards others. In doing so, our nation needs to be humble enough to learn from the innocence of the young ones who look beyond colour or creed. We need to instil in our future generations an appreciation of beauty: beauty in the arts, beauty in nature, beauty of life.

Our children see a borderless world where opportunities are not necessarily limited by the shores of one’s country. 

We owe it to our children and to our educators to invest more diligently in this sector. This government sadly stopped the momentum of investment into the building of new schools. This government failed to tackle the problem of early school leavers.

The Opposition is prepared to step in with all stakeholders to make good for the government’s failures and ensure our country invests in our children.

Adrian Delia is leader of the Opposition and of the Nationalist Party.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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