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The new school leaving certificate

As things stand, the child who attends ballet lessons is being rewarded for that particular pursuit, but the child who helps in the family fields, learning how to grow strawberries, potatoes and what have you, is not.

As things stand, the child who attends ballet lessons is being rewarded for that particular pursuit, but the child who helps in the family fields, learning how to grow strawberries, potatoes and what have you, is not.

It has been over a year since the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education announced its revamped School Leaving Certificate (SLC).

The new certificate now gives credit not solely to students’ academic performance and general conduct during their years of schooling, but also to worthwhile activities they might embark on during their spare time at school and – this is the main change – outside school hours.

There has been very little public feedback to date concerning the new SLC but there is no doubt in my mind that the entire system is fraught with serious shortcomings.

To start with, not all forms of worthwhile activities that students feel free to engage in are actually acknowledged by the Directorate; indeed, only those activities carried out under the umbrella of a registered organisation are deemed to count since the Directorate will argue it lacks the necessary human resources to authenticate the various activities students might otherwise claim to practise.

I am, of course, in no position to offer solutions for self-inflicted logistical difficulties. The Directorate should have analysed beforehand whether it was sufficiently equipped to handle this somewhat ambitious assessment project in a way that would be fair for everybody.

My concern is that the revamped SLC is anything but fair. As things stand right now, a child who attends ballet lessons at a recognised ballet school, for instance, is being rewarded for that particular pursuit, but a child who helps mum or dad in the family fields, learning how to grow strawberries, potatoes and what have you, is not.

The entire system is therefore flawed because it unwittingly discriminates between one commendable pastime and another.

Worse than that, it discriminates against disadvantaged children whose families are not in a position to pay for, say, violin or dancing lessons, and who thus have a narrower range of opportunities for which they can be rewarded.

The new system even fails to realise that there are leisure pursuits, certainly of educational value, that people practise on a strictly personal level.

Children can learn to play a guitar, for instance, by experimenting quietly (or not so quietly) in the privacy of their rooms or by downloading tutorials from the internet.

I personally know of some who do exactly that and who have progressed considerably since day one.

Yet the Directorate will not acknowledge their praiseworthy activity as there is nobody who can actually rubber stamp the formal papers they need to submit and put in a registration number.

Students who take up sports on an individual basis, like jogging and cycling for example, find themselves in a similar unfair situation.

The revamped certificate is also designed to reward students who undertake voluntary work which, prima facie, seems a remarkably good thing to do.

But here again, we find ourselves in our earlier predicament: there is no recognition whatsoever for all voluntary work that is effected without the make-up of a registered voluntary organisation.

The message we are sending to those generous children who regularly look after a sick grandmother, for instance, or help a disabled neighbour, is that their charitable attitude has little value and will go unrewarded as far as the SLC goes.

Had the biblical Good Samaritan been a present-day Maltese student, he too would not have reaped recognition for his humanitarian gesture; though, I suspect, he never would have traded that inner satisfying feeling derived from being caring and considerate towards others, for some mere flattering inscription on a piece of paper.

Which brings us to a serious point here: the revamped system could regrettably be driving our teenagers to take up voluntary work for a very wrong reason.

Voluntary work, which is all about giving unconditionally, is now being stripped of all its noble and altruistic attributes and perceived as a means of acquiring points on the SLC.

I am not being cynical here. A priest told me, just a few weeks ago, how the Mother Superior at a local crèche had been inundated with requests from eager teenagers wishing to offer a helping hand to the sisters.

Her pleasant surprise was very short-lived though: “Basta tiffirmalna l-karta” (just as long as you sign the paper), one of them cheekily added!

The new SLC certainly lacks fairness and distorts the true value of voluntary work. But there are other, more fundamental, issues that have to be weighed up.

To my mind, it is rather unsettling that the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education should now be interested in what students do outside school hours. There are surely no sinister motives at play here but the entire philosophy should attract our scrutiny.

There is a delicate balance, I feel, between the life of a child as ‘student’ and that as ‘private citizen’. The directorate already controls a substantial amount of a child’s life through the process of schooling and the curriculum, which is arguably acceptable in view of the way societies have evolved over time.

But is it really within the brief of the Directorate to delve into the kind of activities children do in their private life? Should a school leaving certificate be at all concerned with matters that take place outside school hours and outside school rules and parameters?

Should external motivation, in the form of points on the SLC be used as a means of pressurising children into taking up (worthy) activities in their private time?

Possibly, the directorate will find time to reflect upon such questions and the shortcomings highlighted above. My view is that a school leaving certificate should be all about school.

The attempt to intrude into life outside school has really complicated matters and has yielded a system that is grossly unfair and overtly bureaucratic.

Schools have been burdened with additional paperwork whereas parents/students are now forced to pester people for rubber stamps and signatures.

A reversal to something closer to the older system could solve all these problems in one fell swoop.

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