Putting our young people first

Malta has a long way to go to achieve the EU objective of having just under 10% of early school leavers by 2020

In 2010 students at the age of 15 and over participated in Programme for Internation Student Assessment (PISA) 2009+ (administered in 2010) together with Costa Rica, Georgia, India (Himachal Pradesh & Tamil Nadu), Malaysia, Mauritius, Venezuela (Miranda), Moldova, United Arab Emirates. These 10 countries, together with 64 others, participated in PISA 2009 and the following are some of the results:

-           Girls performed better than boys in reading;

-           Girls were more aware of strategies for understanding, remembering and summarising information than boys;

-           Students highly aware of effective strategies for learning and who also regularly read a wide range of material tend to demonstrate better reading proficiency than those who either have a lower awareness of effective learning strategies or read a narrower range of material regularly;

-           Socioeconomic and demographic factors effect considerably the reading proficiency;

-           The school social and demographic intake affect policies related to governance, accountability, investment in educational resources, and the general teaching environment;

-           Schools with students from high socioeconomic cultures tend to be more autonomous in curricular decisions, use assessment to meassure accountability, have a good students-teachers relation, and make better use of educational resources. Students attending these schools have better educational outcomes. Among the 10 participating countries in the PISA 2009+, Malta, Mauritius, Miranda-Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates have a strong correlation between the socioeconomic factors and the ability in reading and this is in line with the OECD average;

-           The PISA 2009+ results in reading, literacy, mathematics and science are lower than the OECD average.

The above results lead us to a number of significant indicators in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy among our students:

-           The average score in reading literacy obtained by our students (442 vis-a-vis the OECD average which is 493) was higher than the lowest country (Mexico) from all OECD countries and the Maltese mean was statistically the same as those for Serbia, Costa Rica and Bulgaria;

-           Girls outperformed boys by an average of 72 score points, being the largest gender gap among all 74 participating countries;

-           64% of Maltese students (in contrast to the average 81% among the OECD countries) are estimated to have proficiency in reading literacy that is at or above the baseline level needed to participate effectively and productively in life;

-           Malta is notable among the participating countries in PISA 2009+ that has a relatively large proportion of advanced readers but also a relatively large proportion of poor and very poor readers in the population;

-           The average score obtained by our students in mathematical literacy (463 in contrast to the OECD average of 496) was similar to their counterparts in Greece and higher than those from Israel, Turkey, Chile and Mexico. 66% of our students (in contrast to the OECD average of 75%) are estimated to have proficiency in mathematical literacy that is at the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics in ways considered fundamental for their future development;

-           We had a statistically significant gender difference of 15 score points in mathematical literacy, favouring girls;

-           Our students are estimated to have an average score (461 in contrast to the 501 in OECD countries) which is statistically similar to that obtained from Turkey and Israel, and higher than that achieved from Chile and Mexico;

-           Two thirds of our students are estimated to have proficiency in scientific literacy that is at the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the science competencies that will enable them to participate actively in life situations related to science and technology;

-           There is a significant gender difference of 35 score points in scientific literacy, favouring girls. Malta, like Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, has the wider gender gap among the 74 participating countries in both PISA 2009 and PISA 2009+.

Education and Training Monitoring (2012) is yet another report by the European Commission that shows a worrying situation with regards to the high percentage of low achievers in reading, mathematics and science. The report specifies that Malta, Romania and Bulgaria are far behind the EU average to improve the situation. Referring to OECD data, this report shows that among our 15-year-olds - 36.3% - are low achievers in reading (in contrast to the EU average of 19.6%), 33.7% are low achievers in mathematics (in contrast to the EU average of 22.2%) and 32.5% in science (in contrast to the EU average of 17.7%). It shows that Malta and Sweeden classified at the very top of the list, with 82% of students using English as a foreign language.

Unfortunately, we had the second highest percentage (33.5%) of early school leavers, after Turkey  (41.9%), followed by Spain (26.5%) and Portugal (23.2%), among the 27 EU countries. Our country is far from reaching the EU objective of having just under 10% of early school leavers by 2020. Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Finland, Sweeden and Croatia are all under the EU 10% threshold set for 2020.

A local study by the National Commission for Higher Education shows improvement among 17-year-old students who furthered their studies at post-secondary level from 73% to 82% in 2010 and 2011 respectively (NCHE, 2011) without ignoring the fact that 18% of this same cohort did not continue with their studies and the effect of the falling birth rates (NSO stats). What worries us seriously is the fact that by the age of 19, only 56% of the students furthered their studies in 2010 and 52% in 2011. We definitely need to intervene and look after both the students aged 17 and the 473 students that at age 19 did not continue with their studies.

It is encouraging that according to the  Education and Training Monitoring report (2012) that the employment rate of our graduates aged between 20-34 years is above the EU average and compares well with countries like the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Austria with a good performace as from 2006.

We note the constant improvement in educational attainment among the population between the ages 20-24 in 2006, 2010 and 2011 (51.1, 53.3, 59.2) but one needs to point out that we are still far behind the EU average (77.9, 79, 79.5) which is being constantly improved too. Malta shows improvement in lifelong learning during these years (2006, 5.4%; 2010, 6.2%; 2011, 6.6%) but still performing under the EU average (9.5%, 9.1%, 8.9%) which is declining.

Data on tertiary education attainment among 30-34 year olds show that we score under the EU average. The fact that in 2011 we had 21.1% of such attainment which is less than we had in 2004 and far behind the EU target of 40% by 2020 is worrying. In this regard the report pointed out that Malta, Slovakia and Portugal have put the "most ambitious national targets" with ours being that of 33% (from the 21.1% attainment rate achieved in 2011). If we achieve this "ambitious target" we will be 7% under the established EU threshold.

 Evarist Bartolo is shadow minister for education

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