The country should in the coming years start discussing whether obligatory school age should be extended from the current 16 to 18, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said today.

He said that according to EU statistics, the Maltese were among those who spent the least time in the education system.

That was compounded by truancy. "Some schoolchildren miss up to a third of the school year," Mr Bartolo said. Such children harboured the mentality that  they could take three days off a month since no action was taken against them unless their absence exceed three days.

Mr Bartolo was speaking at a conference organised by Anti-Poverty Forum Malta.

He expressed concern that too many children were leaving school at the end of secondary school when aged 16.

In the age cohort between 16 and 24, 44 per cent of these people were neither in education nor in training or employment. "What are these people doing?" Mr Bartolo said.

Raising the school age was a challenge the country may have to face,  he said.

"But this raises a double challenge. If we often cannot convince children to stay at school regularly until they turn 16, how do we go about convincing them to stay on until they are 18?"

Yet another challenge was to ensure that those who started post-secondary education, actually completed it. In two years, he said, up to a third dropped out.

Mr Bartolo stressed that the educational experience offered to students should be seriously evaluated. “Our schools are hospitals which do not offer the cure we need.

“We need to work hard on literacy and on different pathways to cater for different intelligences.

“What learning spaces are we creating to capture our children’s interest? You can’t put everyone in the same pair of shoes – you need to cater for people who learn differently.”

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