A high standard of education
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A high standard of education

A high standard of national education is one of the key building blocks to Malta’s future success as a modern society. It is the prime medium for achieving sustainable economic growth as well as personal human development.

Despite the commendably high government expenditure on education in recent years – an investment this administration increased significantly – the education system has failed too many students and has not led to corresponding improvements in standards.

A report by the European Commission highlighted major deficiencies. The high rate of early school-leavers and poor basic skills proficiency are hindering long-term improvement in Malta’s education and training programmes. Although noting that government expenditure on education was well above the EU average, the early school-leaving rate was still, at 20.4 per cent, the second highest – twice the Europe 2020 target of 10 per cent. The report also drew attention to the twofold problems of shortfall in supply of highly skilled people (healthcare, finance and the IT sectors) and deficiencies in those with basic skills attainment.

The latter showed that Maltese 15-year-olds who had participated in an OECD Programme for International Students’ Assessment in 2009 had underperformed and were among the worst in the EU.

To improve this and to reduce the concomitant challenge of early school-leaving, the Commission highlighted the importance of professional development of staff to promote student-centred learning. In focusing on this aspect, Brussels may have put its finger on the nub of the problem. “Measures to improve the quality of teaching,” it said, “necessarily require a long-term policy perspective. The fact that the teaching force is quite young may facilitate the task.”

These comments underline the need to ensure that the structure and functions of the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta lead to practical and relevant courses of educational development for teachers by giving priority to the subjects the student teacher is studying, rather than on methodologies. There is also a need to introduce regular assessments of teachers to raise standards by integrating their appraisals in an evaluation framework based on external certification, which would be used as the basis for career advancement.

Early school-leavers who only complete their compulsory education at 16 years, often abandoning their studies without any form of certificate, present a challenge both in economic and social terms. A lack of skills relevant to the workplace is one of the main reasons why they fail to find a job. The government is investing considerably in lifelong learning through modern apprenticeship schemes, work-based and workplace learning, traineeships and adult education. Many young people find in Mcast, the Institute of Tourism Studies and the Employment Training Centre the right structures to improve their skills and to ensure they acquire continuous professional development.

However, the concept of lifelong learning should be further encouraged through fiscal and other incentives.

If, at the end of compulsory education, students find themselves without the key competencies to access to further education, including vocational training, this creates the bottleneck in skills to which the Commission has drawn stark attention.

There is no single magic bullet that will instantly alter Malta’s abysmal record on early school-leaving. Inspirational teaching and continued targeted use of resources are the key to future success.

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