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'We live in a pressure cooker and need to learn to live together' - Education Minister

Hundreds of Asian nurses working as carers

The biggest challenge our country faced in the years ahead was learning to live together, Education Minister told a conference about access to education and employment for migrants.

“We are a cocktail of cities like Barcelona, Venice, Pozzallo and Singapore,” Evarist Bartolo said, describing the current situation as living in a “pressure cooker”.

There are three issues leading to overcrowding: tourism, migration from North Africa and overseas workers who were required in order to keep up with the creation of jobs and the decreasing birth rate, he noted.

“These three factors are already formidable on their own. Together they are one of the biggest challenges for our country, and we need to do all that we can to get it right for everyone’s sake.

“We have to help each other out and ensure that in this small space, we have a human society where diversity is celebrated,” he said, admitting that it was easier said than done.

He promised more collaboration between education and employment institutions, and migrant communities, acknowledging that one of the biggest hurdles was recognising so-called ‘prior learning’: skills and education that were not formally accredited.

Several of those present for the conference, held by the Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, expressed frustration and “despair” at not having their qualifications – even if backed by paperwork – recognised.

Mr Bartolo noted there were cases where institutions asked foreign colleges for information about their accreditation and qualifications, and did not receive a reply.

He urged people facing such difficulties to “sit down” with the authorities and relay their challenges.

“This is a new reality – and a learning curve – for us,” he added.

Hundreds of Asian nurses working as carers

Conference participant Asma Dekna noted that some highly qualified Libyans had moved to Malta over the past few years, but the country did not recognise their qualifications. They therefore moved on to other countries such as the UK, meaning that the island was losing out on people with skills.

Some felt that they were in permanent transition, and were even unsure of whether they could apply for academic courses, as they did not know whether they would be able to stay in Malta because of continuous changes in visa requirements and procedures.

This was reiterated by Laarnie Honrade from the Filipino community, and Prince Aftab who noted that the method of instruction in Pakistan followed that of other Commonwealth countries.

Unfortunately, while there was a shortage of nurses in Malta, hundreds of Pakistani, Indian and Filipino nurses were not recognised as such, and instead worked as carers. He suggested that the authorities provide a top-up course if necessary.

What are the barriers to education and employment?

According to research by the organisers of the conference, FSM, migrants face several barriers, mainly due to lack of flexibility of education programmes.

Mainstream education programmes are often rigid and not adapted to specific groups of migrants who require specific kills, especially when it comes to language learning.

And even if educators are qualified in theory, they often lack knowledge about pedagogues used in promoting language learning for migrant communities.

Training for teachers on meeting the needs of culturally diverse groups is lacking, both in provision and in quality, especially in the field of adult education.

One of the biggest access barriers is the lack of time to pursue a course – especially for migrant workers on long shifts. The rent price situation has made it necessary for many to invest their free time in a second job to meet their expenses, and education fees for courses are seen as an expensive additional burden.

Moreover, some who have worked in Malta for several years have very few opportunities for financial support in accessing education and training, and are expected to pay the same fees as any other TCNs who comes to Malta just to study.

43,000 foreign workers in Malta

The steady growth of the Maltese economy has greatly increased the need for foreign workers in industries such as catering, construction, financial services and healthcare.

In June, there were almost 43,000 foreign workers in Malta. More than 12,400 of these were third-country nationals, with Filipinos topping the list (2,413) and Serbians (2,329).

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