Building a tomorrow

Unlike in previous years, we will not be having one school project per year but multiple works being carried out in parallel. Not any less important is that we won’t be building these schools in the buy-now-pay-later mentality

School resumes in September with all colleges in the co-ed format. (Photo: Valletta 2018)
School resumes in September with all colleges in the co-ed format. (Photo: Valletta 2018)

When I became Minister last year I already had a good idea of the challenges the country was facing. Even the secrets weren’t that secret. If a study had been hidden under lock and key, as far away as possible from the media and public scrutiny, it wasn’t hard to guess what was in it.

It was clear from the start that there were several challenges. We knew that we had to bring about improvements in many areas – for example absenteeism rates, literacy and science performance and limited flexibility for those students not taking traditional paths.

However, there was one area where we didn’t expect to find things as bad as they were – the buildings that our children use every day. In some Primary schools the structures were in terrible shape. We had to close down classrooms where the structure was potentially dangerous to students and staff.

Last year we started a €15 million programme to tackle the problems. The maintenance works continued, where possible, into the winter months. And in the past couple of months another round of intensive maintenance projects began; early each morning hundreds of workers get to work in various schools across Malta and Gozo, busily ensuring that students have better places to study in from September.

Following last summer’s school improvements, a further 40 schools have ongoing projects, of different sizes, during these three summer months. Through the Foundation of Tomorrow’s Schools and the Directorates within the Education Ministry we are working hard to improve the quality of education, and while I believe that the relationship between the teacher and the student in a classroom is the most important aspect of education, having the right environment to work in certainly comes a close second.  

When school resumes in September we will have all colleges in the co-ed format, with the second year of a six-year cycle changeover period commencing. Many schools have had to be restructured in a way that caters for a co-education format, which is why this summer is experiencing one of the most intensive maintenance programmes seen. School administrators have held a number of meetings with parents on the co-ed experience and it was explained how schools would need structural works in order to cater for these changes.

Perhaps not receiving as much merit in the media as it should have, the concept of the middle school is also transforming the secondary level of education. We aim to have smaller schools with Forms 1 and 2 being independent from Forms 3, 4 and 5. The introduction of this policy meant that the government had to go back to the drawing board as to the construction of new schools and re-evaluate priorities.

Following the surge in population in St Paul’s Bay it is clear that a new Primary school is needed there, while another two Primary schools are in the pipeline, for Marsaskala and Mosta. In addition to these there’s to be a middle school in Kirkop, to accommodate approximately 550 students, and a new secondary school in Rabat. Following these projects, the next item on the agenda will be how to improve post-secondary institutions in Malta and Gozo.

Rather than have large schools resembling cities, in which heads don’t know half the students, we plan smaller schools in which the feeling of community is cherished. Rather than going for quantity, we’re going for quality; this is something that educators from all areas had requested. The reality is that smaller schools tend to deliver and pupils tend to feel more at ease. Smaller schools also help in terms of bullying and social challenges – school administrators and staff tend to pinpoint issues much earlier when a school is not huge.

Unlike in previous years, we will not be having one school project per year but multiple works being carried out in parallel. Not any less important is that we won’t be building these schools in the buy-now-pay-later mentality that previous schools were built, which left this government with a €70 million bill. We are opting for a financially sustainable programme while continuing to meet the bills of yesteryear. Despite all the pomp in the previous legislature, a Labour government will have paid for it all at the end of the day.

Schools must provide the right environment for our children to flourish although a building in itself will not get you anywhere. It will be the hard work of educators, parents, school administrators and the children and youths themselves that will make a difference. However, both for those working there and the pupils studying in them, improved buildings certainly go a long way. We are far from done but come September, another 40 schools will be in a much better shape than we left them in May.

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