Updated at 6.10pm with Education Ministry statement
Malta has the second largest number of early school leavers in Europe, with one out of every six students quitting school in their teenage years.
However, despite topping the list along Spain and Romania, Malta has managed to halve the share of early school leavers between 2006 and 2018, according to European data.
According to Eurostat, early school leavers are those aged between 18 and 24 with, at most, lower secondary education and who are not in further education or training.
In 2006, a third of Maltese students left school early, a figure that dropped to 17.5% in 2018. In both instances, boys made up the largest share of early school leavers, with 36% in 2006 and 19.4% in 2018.
Malta pledged to bring down the figure to 10% by 2020.
Overall, the proportion of early leavers from education and training decreased over these 12 years in all member states, except for Czechia (increased to 6.2%), Slovakia (8.6%) and Sweden (9.3%).
Last year, the lowest numbers of early school leavers were recorded in Croatia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece, Poland and Ireland, while the highest shares were recorded in Spain (17.9 per cent), Malta and Romania (16.4 per cent). Thirteen states have already fulfilled their 2020 national target.
Malta triples portion of 30 to 34-year-olds with tertiary education
Meanwhile, together with another 15 member states Malta has met its 2020 target for those aged 30 to 34 with tertiary education.
Only 9.3% of the Maltese had completed tertiary education in 2002 – a figure that rose to 34.2% in 2018.
The share was higher for women than men - 37% compared to 31.7%.
The countries at the top of the list have seen at least half of their population aged 30 to 34 completing tertiary education.
More than 57% did so in Lithuania and Cyprus, while more than 56% completed tertiary education in Ireland and Luxembourg.
On the opposite end of the scale, the lowest proportions were observed in Romania (24.6%) and Italy (27.8%).
Women surpassed 2020 target
Europe has set its own 2020 target, and so far, it remains on track. It expects at least 40% of 30 to 34-year-olds in the EU to complete tertiary education.
It crossed the threshold last year with 40.7% – up from 23.6% in 2002.
The steady increase was even more significant for women - from a quarter in 2002 to 45.8% in 2018 - than for men (from 22.6% to 35.7%), meaning that women are above and men still below the overall Europe 2020 target.
In a statement issued later on Friday, the Education Ministry highlighted tertiary education figures as especially noteworthy.
The Ministry also highlighted progress in cutting early school leaving rates. In 2000, more than half of all students left school early; by 2010 that rate was 23.8 per cent and it is now 17.5 per cent, the ministry said.