How to improve education

The need for more books in classroom libraries and the possibility of further use of technologies during reading lessons is also made clear for all to see

The McKinsey& Co Report (2010) classifies the Maltese schooling system as 'fair' in contrast to other international school systems that are classified as 'good', 'great' and even as 'excellent'. This international study implies that our system needs to sustain basic literacy and numeracy skills amongst our students, and needs to consolidate its foundations.

The local situation: children at 7+ (Year 3 Survey Results)

A local survey conducted by the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education in 2012 among a sample of our Year 3 primary students, and never released in the public domain, clearly shows that the national policy and strategy on Maltese and English literacy, designed by the said Directorate, was not effective at all and failed dramatically. The survey results show that a high rate of children have not mastered basic skills in Maltese and English. This cohort of children was in the first year of primary schooling when the National Policy and Strategy for the Attainment of Core Competences in Primary Education was launched in 2009. The failure of this strategy is clearly shown in the table below which is being published for the very first time:

  Maltese (%) English (%)
Relates a story in response to a set of pictures
52.6 35.6%
Communicates with peers
87.7 35.6
Expresses needs
89.5 51.5
Reads accurately unseen text    
51.5 51.2
Infers meaning from text and predicts outcomes 45.6 37.6
Writes a few sentences or a short paragrap 37.6 26.3
Uses upper and lower case letters
35.1 34.4a








A number of recommendations were internally put forward in order to improve the above worrying situation:

  • More time on task and creative use of both languages needs to be allocated;
  • The need to increase the use of English in the classroom as part of the daily routine;
  • A need for an evaluation of the resources being used in the school and classroom;
  • A need for an evaluation of the time allocated for oracy;
  • A need for an evaluation of the methods being used in the teaching of writing and reading;
  • The need for the children to read and decode texts in real reading situations with connected text;
  • The need for a reading programme.

Education and Training Monitoring (2012), a report by the European Commission, shows that participation in early childhood education and care in Malta in 2006 and 2010 declined from 95.6 (which at that time was higher than the EU average, 89.3) to 89.0 (which is lower than the EU average, 92.3) respectively.

A third international report, PIRLS (2012), shows that school headteachers and teachers emphasise academic success and their career satisfaction is quite high. They have to spend their time managing students' behaviour while the issue of bullying in our schools is reported as being high.

The report makes a number of recommendations such as the need for improvement in the teachers' conditions of work, the need for more quality training in literacy, reading and the theory of reading, and an improvement in teachers' formal education and training. Another identified need in our system is that of collaboration between teachers with the ultimate aim to improve teaching.

This study shows that while students are motivated and inclined towards reading, their confidence towards reading needs support and improvement due to the fact that it weakens when compared with their motivation. In our case, we need to narrow the gap between the students that achieve basic skills and the others who fall behind and address the fact that boys tend to achieve less reading skills than girls.

The report recommends that students start their primary education with sound literacy basic skills through better and increased emphasis in early grades on reading skills and strategies. The need for more books in classroom libraries and the possibility of further use of technologies during reading lessons are also highlighted. The report recommends an improvement in the parents' educational expectations of their children's achievement and that their children can succeed.

The report by McKinsey& Co (2010) shows how there is no direct correlation between expenditure per student and their educational outcomes. It concludes that despite an increase in expenditure, a large number of systems either stagnated or regressed, and that systems with similar expenditure classify in different categories. Its recommendation for such systems is not to abandon the desire for educational improvement but to adopt a different approach, hopefully guided by the experiences of other school systems that have succeeded in improving over the longer term.

In our case, Malta's current government spend of €1,095.82 per student is less than the average OECD countries' (OECD, 2012). The report Education and Training Monitoring (2012) refers to the total public investment on education as part of its GDP in 2009, where Malta had 5.46% of its GDP and it was higher than the EU average (5.41%). Interestingly enough, at the pre-primary, primary and tertiary levels, Malta featured below the EU average investment with that on the secondary level being higher (though 15 EU countries had a higher investment than ours).

Evarist Bartolo is shadow minister for education