A lasting gift to our nation
There can be little doubt that decades of British rule left an indelible mark on us Maltese. From the spoken language to driving on the left and from red letter boxes to a bureaucracy rivalling that of countries many times our size.
As a nation we are still somewhat uncertain whether to be proud of this heritage or whether to shun it. Let’s take the language as an example. On the one hand we take pride that as a people we are bilingual and (rightly) gain marketing mileage out of this. We bring over thousands of English language students; we attract foreign companies because of our English-speaking workforce and we also publish high-quality books on our Islands’ heritage in English so these works can be appreciated all over the world.
However, there also exists an undercurrent that tends towards the shunning of this all-important asset that, if nurtured properly, can continue to serve us for many decades to come.
The main point of this piece however is not the English language but something else that we inherited from our colonial years – our education system.
There can be little doubt that the system has worked. We continue to churn out students from secondary school that go on to tertiary education achieving great results both locally and overseas. However, the question to ask here is: are we getting the most out of our secondary school education? My answer is no and I believe the reason for that can be found in the current outdated system.
Despite some recent modifications, the current system still determines that our children must choose between a number of “optional” subjects in Form II (or equivalent) – when the child is in his/her 13th year. There can be little doubt that these choices will have a massive bearing on the future of the child’s education and hence on his/her life.
First question to ask here: how many 13-year-olds know what career they would like to pursue later on in life? Answer: very few. Second question: what guarantee is there that a subject enjoyed by the student during the year of choice will remain so in later years? The reasons why students may grow out of love with a subject are varied and include a change of teacher, change of character (remember that teenage boys and girls are going through one of the biggest challenges of their life) as well as a genuine change of heart. Today, the solution to such a realisation is... well there isn’t really one and it’s just a matter of hard luck and get on with it.
One must also ask: exactly who is making the choices? The myth (propounded by society in general) that “only the study of STEM subjects and IT get you jobs in the future” has taken hold. Many parents tend to push their children towards these choices while overriding the wishes of their children. This is short-sighted and may indeed be detrimental to the future education of the children.
Another aspect of our secondary education that needs serious re-thinking is the exam system. Although there do exist some subjects that grade ongoing work (such as experiments in the sciences) the bulk of grades assigned to students stems from the Matsec madness whereby pressure is piled on to our children who in the space of a few weeks have to sit for a multitude of exams.
There are some students who may excel throughout senior school only to fall short during the intensive exam period. What happens to those children who fall sick, whose parents may be going through a separation or the individual experiencing a raging chemical/hormonal revolution? Once again it’s hard luck and get on with it.
Other students may not excel academically but may have contributed to other activities such as representing the school at sports, the organisation of social events, drama activities or possibly the running of a school club.
Such efforts, essential as they are both for the school and for the individual, may at best get a mention in the school-leaving report. Isn’t it time that we reward and encourage such efforts? Should not such aspects of a child’s time at school be recognised and indeed rewarded? There may be a future entrepreneur or sports personality in the making and yet we keep pushing our children to those all-so-important mid-yearly and final exams.
As I said in the beginning of this piece, this is an educational system built on something that we inherited from our past colonial masters. The system has worked for us in the past but setting our future educational goals based on something that still has traces of Tom Brown’s Schooldays in its fabric is akin to planning a modern steel structure on wooden foundations.
2014 is the 50th anniversary of Malta’s independence from Britain. A long-lasting gift that any future government can give to our nation is a serious re-thinking of our educational system where effort throughout a child’s school years is fairly rewarded and that children are allowed to develop interests in subjects that are not anchored in that fateful year of Form II.
We need to start thinking about developing students as creative thinkers and not as parrot learners – which unfortunately is what the exam system promotes.
Such a bold move would guarantee that Malta’s future is bright and this is the very least we can do for our sons and daughters because after all, the future belongs to them.