The decline of public education
An effective public education system is the most effective tool to promote social mobility. A shortage of teachers, poor student achievement records, school violence, botched educational projects and poor planning to cater for the capacity needs resulting from economic growth are all signs that an education system is not delivering.
The latest worrying news coming from the education system is that children in some State schools may have to attend lessons in mobile classrooms because no more space is available. Such shortage of classrooms is normally associated with poor countries with shoestring budgets for education. In Malta, the problem is caused by the inability of the government to plan long term to ensure that economic growth is supported by the enabling infrastructure, including the provision of adequate educational facilities.
The fact that some towns like St Paul’s Bay and Żejtun were experiencing a strong flow of both local and foreign residents has been evident for more than a decade. The overcrowding of schools should have led to concrete plans to extend the availability of classrooms so that students could be accommodated in a normal school environment.
Planned school building programmes have failed to materialise even if the Education Ministry is reticent in explaining why this is the case. There seem to be no delays in the construction of flats, commercial outlets, hotels and high-rise buildings. Looking at the crane-studded skyline of practically every town and village is proof that where there is financial motivation to speed up construction projects, results are achieved fast.
Installing mobile classrooms does not provide the ideal environment for learning. The government argues that strong economic growth was not anticipated in such a short time. It will also insist that the influx of vast numbers of foreign workers and the pressures they create on the infrastructure are inevitable and irreversible. The not-so-subtle message is that we have to put up with a failing infrastructure if we want to continue experiencing the instant gratification that comes with strong economic growth.
The Education Ministry is reluctant to discuss the massive problems that our public education system is facing. It churns out mounds of media releases that serve no viable purposes other than to provide politicians with a ready forum to announce their latest initiative that soon disappears. The latest initiative is a consultation process on school uniforms.
Lack of long-term planning is one of the main reasons behind students’ poor achievement levels that threaten the country’s future prosperity. Sustainable economic growth will only be achieved when we focus on improving productivity. The best way to do this is through an education system that prepares young people for the challenges of the modern workplace.
The public education system is in crisis. The political leadership in this sector is failing in a way that should worry policymakers, parents, students, business and society. In the absence of robust plans and competence to reverse this decline, it is left to teachers’ unions, parents and employers to keep attention focused on the inadequacy of the public education system.
Parents with ample financial means will find ways to avoid the worst consequences of a failing public education system. Those who do not have such means will struggle to achieve their dream to move up the social ladder.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial