There is a growing gap between the government’s economic vision and the way that young people are being prepared to face the challenges of the modern economy. This slow-burning issue is failing thousands of students who leave their statutory education phase with hardly any skills or qualifications. Social and economic inequality will continue to rise if policymakers do not change course and reform the system.

The Malta Union of Teachers has once again warned the government that not all is well with the way that our public schools are being managed. Its president, Marco Bonnici, insists that with the introduction of 13 new subjects in the next scholastic year the problem of an insufficient number of educators will only get worse. This apart from a multitude of problems caused by overcrowding and bad planning.

According to the MUT, there is already a shortage of teachers in core subjects like Maltese, English and mathematics. Adding 13 applied subjects will stretch the human resources available to the breaking point.

The public education system is very rarely held accountable for the undereducated students it churns out every year. Schools have little options but to follow the education authorities’ instructions while parents are hardly involved in the process of public education. Nobody spends time on the concept of genuine customer satisfaction. After all, the customers are merely uneducated children who will not realise they were shortchanged by the system until they try to join the workforce and realise they have little to offer to prospective employers.

If we do not want to keep depending on masses of foreign workers filling in the skills gap and be satisfied with just reaping the limited benefits of renting out property to them, policymakers must rethink the way the education system is managed. The involvement of educators and parents is indispensable if the depressing achievement records of the educational system are to be something of the past.

Some people typically assume that what is wrong with the public education system is lack of funding. Yet, Malta spends more than the EU average on education. There are structural cracks in the foundation that the system is built on. Until these issues are addressed, no amount of extra expenditure will solve the problem of underachievement.

The status of the educators is possibly the lowest among all professions. This reality is leading to fewer undergraduates choosing teaching as a career. Those who do may not always be motivated to excel in their profession. A child’s education is highly dependent upon the instructions they receive. Not all teachers entering the classroom have enough training and experience to foster student engagement. Educators need to be respected in society if more competent young people are to be attracted to the profession.

Policymakers also need to consider the benefits of disbanding antiquated systems like granting students long holidays by switching to year-round schooling to improve both academic and vocational achievement. Teachers and policymakers would, of course, have to agree to switch up the status quo to cater for such drastic changes.

The public education system is failing thousands of young people. Radical reform is needed if we are to invest soundly in our future prosperity. The political ambition for ensuring that no child is left behind is so far just a blurred vision.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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