Why our children deserve a better educational system

We need a strategy that narrows the gap between girls and boys in reading and literacy.

A number of Maltese children aged nine years and above participated in a number of international studies where, unfortunately, they ranked below the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study Scale Centerpoint (500).

We need an effective strategy that narrows the gap between girls and boys in reading and literacy, with the former performing better than the latter.

Malta has the wider gap between the two gender groups among all participating countries in the PIRLS study. The scenario in mathematics is different, with the boys indicating a slightly better performance than girls, though we need to improve the performance of both groups. Unfortunately, our students performed badly in scientific literacy.

We need to follow a number of recommendations put forward by these studies, including the need for trained teachers in strategies in reading, mathemetics and science, further attention on the preparatory education of our children, and higher pre-requisites for the teachers' education and training. There need to be more qualified teachers with at least a bachelor's degree in education and other training in the teaching of reading, literacy, mathematics and science in our primary schools.

Another recommendation which needs to be followed is for our children to achieve basic skills in reading, mathematics and science as early as possible. There is a direct relation between children's inclination towards learning and their achievement throughout the years. These studies recommend a curriculum that values reading and a balanced programme that supports quality time on the teaching and learning of reading, improvement in reading as a literary experience, and reading with the scope of obtaining and using information. Emphasis is put on assessing the children's linguistic skills at an early age so that their literacy skills are truly identified and remedial steps taken where needed.

It is recommended that more children start their primary schooling experience with basic mathematical skills, higher confidence in this learning area and an awareness of its importance and relevance. Thus, emphasis is put on quality teaching time, a quality curriculum, teaching approaches, and on the effectiveness of the educational system.

There is a need for a positive attitude among children towards science and a curriculum that promotes science content and the cognitive and investigative processes. Here again there is a recommendation for more time to be allocated to the teaching of science in the primary school, more emphasis from schools on the importance of science, on investigation, on an increase in the number of students who are interested in learning science, and on the need for more facilities and resources  that facilitate the teaching of science in primary schools.

These international reports show the importance and influence that both the home environment and support and an early childhood education programme have on the children's development of reading, numeracy and science skills. Parents' expectations on their children's education achievement needs to improve since it is quite low. These studies show how at international level where expectations are high the higher is the probability of educational success in literacy, numeracy and science among their children.

Another clear relation is between the socioeconomic background and the language home background, and their impact on the students' educational achievements. We know that students coming from advantaged economic home backgrounds and a supportive language (Maltese and English) home background are in a better position to succeed in their educational experience.

It is recommended that school headteachers are more adequately prepared to lead their schools, have more time for the development and communication of the school's mission, and support students and teachers in achieving the school's objectives. School headteachers are recommended to secure discipline and safety issues, coach their staff, design and start initiatives, and participate in professional development.

Other recomendations which we need to follow include the improvement in teachers' working conditions such as the school environment, the number of students in the classroom, the teaching hours, adequate workspace, the teaching resources and material necessary for the teaching experience. These studies show that there is a relation between the working conditions and the students' achievement in literacy, numeracy and science. Other direct influence on the students' educational achievments comes from adequate school and classroom libraries, and a variety of resources and material.

Good nutrition and enough sleep are also related to higher achievement in reading, literacy and numeracy.

The current situation of our schooling system is very worrying. This is clearly indicated in the End of Year 6 Benchmark Examinations administered in 2011 and 2012 where the median in Mathematics declined by 14%, 4% decline in Maltese and an increase of 2% in English.