Evarist Bartolo

Let’s burst the bubble

The relevance of the education system will only remain if it adapts to the needs of the modern world

Evarist Bartolo
26 July 2017, 7:30am
 We have top continue building an education system that reaches everyone
We have top continue building an education system that reaches everyone
Twenty-one years ago, the former European Commission President, Jacques Delors, wrote a report entitled “Learning: A Treasure Within”. Delors served on the UNESCO Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century from 1993 to 1996, and this report was the final statement of his work. It became the basis of various policies, including European Union ones, such as the European Lifelong Learning Indicators.

It lists four important pillars for education: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live with others and learning to be. These pillars encompass the fundamentals of a well-rounded educational experience. It’s about human growth rather than academic achievement. It has the foresight and ambition to dream what could be done, referenced commonly as “utopia” in the report, but which, in reality, are straight-forward and simple notions. It discussed things which were yet to come, such as a multi-cultural environment in schools and how advanced technology would change how we learn.

It proposed concepts that were well ahead of their time, and forecast a changing society where skills and abilities in the real world were more important than academic certification. It talks about “exclusion of a growing number of people in the rich countries” and how this will continue to bring about disillusionment. Some of the effects of such inequality have become evident in recent years.

The report received rave reviews because it did not discuss education in an inelastic manner. It tried to burst the bubble that education often finds itself stuck in. It was primarily about the world, the industries that dominate our working lives and the human interaction in between. It was not just about curricula and academia, but about people and aspirations. Often, education lives in a world of its own and we often forget that its livelihood depends on its interaction with the outside world.

“There is a need to rethink and broaden the notion of lifelong education. Not only must it adapt to changes in the nature of work, but it must also constitute a continuous process of forming whole human beings – their knowledge and aptitudes, as well as the critical faculty and the ability to act. It should enable people to develop awareness of themselves and their environment and encourage them to play their social role at work and in the community,” the report states.

This was all said 21 years ago. Since then, education across the globe has continued its drive on rigid certifications and examinations, forgetting that its scope should go beyond that.

Another report by Unesco, this time published in 1972 by Edgar Faure, was titled ‘Learning to be: World of Education Today and Tomorrow.’ It may be 45 years old but the report could’ve been written yesterday. Its recommendations are still very relevant, for it states that in the 21st century everyone will need to exercise greater independence and judgement combined with a stronger sense of personal responsibility for the attainment of common goals.

These were all messages that we did our best to communicate during Malta’s six months holding the European Presidency. We talked about getting education out of its bubble and injecting it with a dose of reality, to reach beyond school subjects and listen to our biggest stakeholder: the young people who are sitting in classrooms today. As everything, it’s a case of adapt or die.

The relevance of the education system will only remain if it adapts to the needs of the modern world. It is easy to say things are moving too fast. It is easy to say the world out there is complicated and ever-changing, and that the education system cannot keep up with the pace. However, we cannot continue using old methods, which have proven to have failed, and expect different results. We must have the courage to change. 

When we do, the results could be phenomenal and there’s evidence about that. In recent days, MATSEC have published the SEC (‘O’ level) results for last May’s session. The averages varied, but they hovered around the 60% to 70% mark. The five vocational subjects, which were introduced three years ago at Form 3 level, and whose students sat for the first time had a whopping 89.1% pass mark. This goes to show that when we provide students with good quality vocational programmes and a different way to measure their abilities (it wasn’t a win-all exam like the others but through two assignments and a control assessment) the results can be aplenty. 

The seed has been planted, and the first steps have been promising. We have to continue building an education system that reaches everyone, in different ways. One that manages to go beyond the academic, and provide an extensive meaning to learning. One that manages to uphold the pillars of education: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live with others and learning to be.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment