Students attending a private school are likely to be two years more advanced in their learning when compared to a public school, according to a European Commission report.

The commission’s latest country report on Malta, published in May, says a student’s performance is strongly linked to the type of school attended, with the gap between private and public schools equivalent to “more than two school years”.

This gap, the report continues, indicates fragmentation of the education system, with “learning losses” expected to be further aggravated by the pandemic.

A “large percentage” of young children fail to achieve a minimum proficiency level, with underachievement in basic skills being particularly high among disadvantaged students.

The report says equality of opportunities poses challenges, as the socio-economic background strongly influences student outcomes, which, in turn, significantly increases the risk of future poverty and social exclusion.

According to the report, 51 per cent of pupils from the bottom socioeconomic quartile fail to achieve a minimum level of skills in reading, compared with 34.7 per cent for the EU average.

This is more than twice the rate of underachievement within the top quartile, although, standing at 24.3 per cent, the underachievement rate is still higher than the European Union average of 9.3 per cent.

The commission says these “relatively poor education outcomes” and a tight labour market end up fuelling labour shortages and skills mismatches in Malta.

The island has one of the highest shares of low-skilled workers in the EU at 36 per cent when compared to the zone’s average of 24.9 per cent.

Furthermore, many of these low-skilled workers do not seek to improve their skills. 

Spending on education among the highest in the EU

It would appear that Malta’s poor education system is not down to a lack of government spending in the sector.

The report says that general government expenditure on education, both as a proportion of GDP and as a proportion of general government expenditure, was among the highest in the EU in 2019.

“Given low education outcomes, this suggests some challenges in the efficiency and effectiveness of spending and highlights the need for strengthening the evaluation of investments in education and training,” the report says.

Despite what the report describes as a substantial decrease since 2010, the early school-leaving rate remains relatively high when compared to the EU average.

A “significant gap” exists between native-born and foreign-born young people.

The decreasing trend for native-born early school leavers in recent years indicates that the policies put in place to tackle early leaving are achieving results, the commission said.

However, persistently high levels of foreign-born young people leaving school early point to challenges in equity and inclusion.

This, the report says, is particularly important as the share of pupils from abroad has significantly increased in the last decade.

Tertiary education attainment rate slightly above EU average

It is, however, not all bad news.

The report says the tertiary education attainment rate, at 42.4 per cent, is slightly above the EU average of 41.2 per cent.

This positive trend is likely to be driven by both a higher number of students participating in tertiary programmes, in particular women, and a strong reliance on high skilled foreigners in a buoyant labour market, the report says.

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