Lifelong education is a must

It is a well-known fact that the levels and standards of education have increased across generations. However, the question is whether the general trend has been maintained across European states.

The answer, especially in Malta, is that the level of improvement is simply not enough. In fact, a recent report published by the EU on 2011 statistics, shows that much more has to be done. Education is a challenge that should form part of the mission statement that goes beyond this or any other legislature. This is why we have to start today to reap the benefits in generations to come.

The Eurostat report highlights the importance of the relationship between parents and their children's educational attainment. Data has been provided for children whose parents have varying levels of education and an analysis comparing the level of education of the children with that of their parents shows a clear movement of improved educational attainment.

In parents with a low level of education, there was a significant improvement, showing that their children moved from a low level of education to a medium or higher level, in a number of EU member states. However there was also a persistence of low education for children whose parents have had a minimal education. Malta features in the bottom spot, with 73% of children maintaining the same level of education as that of their parents. Other countries, such as Sweden and the Czech Republic, have managed to reduce this figure to a more realistic figure of just 11%.

With parents with a medium level of education the rate of movement to a higher standard of education is higher than that of low level of education parents. However, once again, the persistence level is the highest in all EU states at 43% compared to an EU average of 8%.

The issue with children of highly educated parents is worrying. The statistical data shows that a staggering 26% of children in this group with high education parents actually achieve a low level of education.

These figures are a clear eye opener that there is a need to intervene at the family level. Lifelong learning is often defined as the learning that takes places after a person has finished his formal education. This is wrong - Lifelong learning starts at birth. The importance of learning and education from birth should be emphasised.

We need to build early learning systems to help children achieve the first national education goal - that all children start school ready to learn. We need to build on a greater understanding of the importance of the first years of life to lifelong learning.

It is increasingly evident that many more parents are working while their children are very young. But this is where we need to strike a balance. Chronologically, early learning covers the first years of a child's life, from birth to school age. It is the most crucial time in educational development  and parents should interact and stimulate educational growth through the early years.

Another important aspect that would contribute towards improved educational attainment is the need to have students from different localities mixing together. Such an initiative would provide a healthy inter-mixing of sub-cultures and would be a positive influence on the educational expectations of those coming from low-level education backgrounds.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister for Education