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Early school leaving biggest problem for youths | Miriam Teuma

Ahead of a St James Cavalier-organised event aiming to empower local youths, Agenzija Zaghzagh CEO Miriam Teuma tells us that too many local kids are dropping out of school too fast, and that offering them individual attention may just be the key to keeping them there.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
9 December 2014, 9:30am
Miriam Teuma: “The lack of practical, hands-on education within traditional institutions has contributed to this. In a lot of ways, the system has failed these youths by concentrating too much on theory”. Photo by Ray Attard
Miriam Teuma: “The lack of practical, hands-on education within traditional institutions has contributed to this. In a lot of ways, the system has failed these youths by concentrating too much on theory”. Photo by Ray Attard
“I know this may not sound so rigorous or scientific to some people out there, but in reality all youths need is someone to take care of them.”

As CEO of Agenzija Zaghzagh, Miriam Teuma is keenly aware that youths need to be reminded of social realities and what’s expected of them professionally, but she doesn’t believe this should come at the expense of the emotional well-being.

“As a youth agency, we always do background checks for the youths that come to us, and more often than not it’s simply a case of adults not finding the time to discuss what really matters to them. So they need someone to sit down and speak to them in an honest, non-threatening way. That way, you build confidence, and impress upon them that they can achieve whatever it is they want to achieve…”

Founded in early 2012, Agenzija Zaghzagh – which forms part of the Education Ministry – aims to develop and implement initiatives and programmes to address and help meet young people’s needs and aspirations, while also initiating contacts and approaches with other government ministries and agencies with a view to “developing a coordinated cross-sectoral approach in meeting young people’s needs”.

More recently, the agency introduced ‘Youth.inc’, an initiative that offers part-time tuition in subjects such as Maths, English and IT Skills (among others). 

“The incorporation of Youth.inc will not only expand the agency’s capacity, responsibilities and remit, but will also require it to refocus its role: one that uses both formal and non-formal learning methods and approaches,” Teuma says.

The emphasis on non-formal education is an important one for the agency, given that Teuma believes there is a real lacuna within the Maltese educational system.

“Early school-leaving remains one of the biggest problems we face when it comes to local youths,” Teuma says in no uncertain terms. “The lack of practical, hands-on education within traditional institutions has contributed to this. In a lot of ways, the system has failed these youths by concentrating too much on theory. This is something we try to address with our own courses,” Teuma says, stressing that an informal setting is also crucial to providing a more engaging educational experience.

But Teuma also adds that various ‘real-world’ social factors come into play that lead to youths dropping out of school ‘before their time’. One would think that, for example, the promise of a stipend – unique among EU countries – would entice students to stick around.

“But the thing is, a stipend is still less money in their hands than a part-time job would provide them with, even at minimum wage. A lot of these students don’t really think of the long-term consequences. Since they still live with their parents, having a job provides them with enough money to go out, and to save up for a car, for example, so they’re happy.”

Teuma also contends that culturally, Maltese youths tend to be more pampered by their parents when compared to their international counterparts, and that this doesn’t motivate them to better their professional opportunities.

“This can be problematic because it means they’re not flexible. They may think that they can survive working in one particular field, or in the family business, but things might change in the future, and if they don’t have any real skills they’ll end up professionally stranded soon enough…”

Apart from offering tuition with a more practical bent, and ensuring that its young clients are psychologically taken care of, Teuma claims that cultural activities can also play a part in boosting the morale of young people across the board.

The agency is in fact directly involved with one such upcoming activity.

Running from 12 to 14 December and organised in collaboration with St James Cavalier, ‘#malteen’ will be a cultural weekend ‘for youths by youths’. From music concerts to dance installations, from theatre productions and scriptwriting workshops to human board games and abseiling, the programme of ‘#malteen’ will celebrate teenagers’ creativity and their urge for self-expression.

Claiming that such collaborations are “evidence of the agency’s ongoing commitment to promoting culture and arts among young people,” Teuma believes such events can be beneficial in more ways than one.

“With these activities, we get a chance to highlight the positive aspect of youths… rather than the negative clichés we’re often inundated with in the media.”

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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