One-third of our students still leave school early

This government is more interested in the number of students that graduate… a number which, however, remains below EU levels.

The Education and Training Monitor 2012 just published as a European Commission Staff Working Document focuses on Early School Leaving in the 27 EU states. The report concludes: 'The current situation varies significantly across Member States. A number of countries have reached the benchmark, primarily in Northern and Eastern Europe.

'Some countries were already below 10% at the beginning of the monitoring period and have further improved their performance since 2000. In various southern Member States, the situation is still problematic. Currently, 11 Member States are over the 10% benchmark. Malta (33.5%), Spain (26.5%) and Portugal (23.2%) have the highest rates of Early School Leaving.'

With 33.5% Malta is still at the top of Early School Leaving table in the 27 EU Member States.

The Gonzi administration said that this document is another good certificate for its achievement in education.

After 25 years of PN rule, Malta has still the highest number of Early School leavers in the EU.

Gonzi boasts that 82% of our 16-year-olds decide to continue with their schooling on reaching the minimum school leaving age. Statistics that show that this percentage falls drastically by 30% to 52% at age 19 are swept under the carpet. The government does not tackle the real problem: that this high percentage of drop-outs between the ages of 16 and 19 is due to a sub-standard primary and secondary education.

This government is more interested in the number of students that graduate... a number which, however, remains below EU levels. It does not seem to be concerned about the high number of youths that fall behind.

Reports prepared by the government itself, show that 30% of students give up on the subject that they had themselves chosen within the first two years of that particular course. An MCAST public tender earlier this year, acknowledges that 30% of students fall behind in their courses and discontinue their studies.

MCAST's admission is the first of its kind. In its document (MCAST T,09/2012), the authorities refer to this 30% rate of drop-outs as evident in 2005/6 and that it has remained unchanged for the scholastic year 2009/10. This notwithstanding that MCAST started the Foundation programmes, targeted for the more vulnerable students. 

It is high time that the necessary changes are effected. MCAST pre-foundation and foundation courses should be altered, improved and strengthened to cater for those youths who, for some reason other, did not manage to attain necessary academic skills in their primary and secondary education.

Government should come clean on statistics on education. It is useless quoting a 90% success rate by taking into consideration SEC grades of 6 and 7 and by disregarding 468 students that did not even sit for their exam. By including those students with a 6 and 7 grade, with those that obtain a grade of between 1 and 5, the government is portraying a distorted picture. In fact, those students with a 6 to 7 grade find it very difficult to further their studies because these grades present a weak base for a successful education.

The Matsec Board Report last January shows that only 44.5% of our students who complete their secondary education obtain the required SEC grades (1 to 5) to enter sixth form The fact that  82% continue in post secondary education - including the vocational strand - but then 30% drop out after two years and only 52% continue their studies, shows that even for students who really want to succeed at MCAST and at the Institute for Tourism Studies, an sound primary and secondary education is indispensable.

]SUBHEAD[ Still below EU

In 2010 Malta had 11,000 students in tertiary education, a ratio of 2.7% of the population, compared to 19.8 million (or 3.9%) in the EU27, according to Eurostat. By comparison, Cyprus had 32,000 students in tertiary education, for a ratio of 4.0% whereas Iceland, whose population is similar to Malta's though not in the EU, had a ratio of 5.6%.

The financial and economic crisis has affected higher education in different ways, with some countries investing more and other making radical cutbacks in their education spending. The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training that was adopted in May 2009 set a number of benchmarks, including one that by 2020 the proportion of 30- to 34-year-olds with tertiary education attainment should be at least 40%. Just over one-third (34.6%) of the population aged 30-34 in the EU had such a kind of education in 2011, but Malta's ratio is still a considerable way off at 21.1%.

The gender gap in tertiary education pleasantly works in favour of the female part of the population. In fact, whereas only 30.8% of the EU's males (Luxembourg: 49.1%) attained a tertiary level of education in 2011, 38.5% (Ireland: 54.8%) of the females did so. This is emulated by Malta, though by considerably lower percentages - 20.1% for males and 22.1% for females.

In 2010, one third of Malta's students, and the highest share of all students - much the same proportion as in the EU27, but lower than Latvia's 49.9% - were following courses in social sciences, business and law.  At the other end, only 0.2% of Malta's students were in agricultural and veterinary studies compared to 1.8% in the EU and 4.8% in Greece, but this was probably to be expected given the small size of Malta's agricultural sector. 

However, the statistics for the other studies also differ, sometimes considerably. Thus, while only 12.2% of all EU students were following courses in the humanities and arts, the proportion in Malta was 18.1% - the highest in the EU. A surprising 16.4% of Maltese students (EU: 10.1%) were studying science, mathematics and computing - again, the highest in the EU, and another 11.6% wanted to graduate in health and welfare (EU: 13.6%, and 21.4% in Belgium). 

Employers have often bemoaned the mismatch between the needs of industry and the output of the University. This is very much evident only from two statistics. Thus, only 9.4% of Malta's tertiary students were following courses in engineering, manufacturing and construction (EU: 14.4%, 24.9% in Finland), whereas 1.2% were involved in courses dealing with services (EU: 4.0%, 10.5% in Hungary). Keeping in mind that manufacturing and construction account for 14.8% of Malta's GDP, and that services produce a staggering 52% of GDP, the mismatch in these two sectors is too big.

In 2010, 3,143 students graduated from Malta's higher educational institutions, mostly in social sciences, business and law, followed by those in the humanities and arts, and in health and welfare.  

Those in teaching and training; science, maths and computing; and in engineering, manufacturing and construction came next.

The lowest number of graduates was in services and in agriculture and veterinary studies. Slightly more females graduated than males.

Evarist Bartolo is shadow minister for education

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