The best football shoes do not a Messi make

It is very important to have the right equipment, the right buildings and the right environment in schools, but clothes don’t make the player.

It is no use having a new state of the art school with most surrounding schools in a dilapidated state
It is no use having a new state of the art school with most surrounding schools in a dilapidated state

When taking office as Minister for Education three years ago, I had a vision of an improved educational system and of a greater participation in the educational process in our islands.

To some, the benchmark of success was the number of new schools built during a legislature. I refused to be drawn into this race although I am proud that we have managed to exceed expectations and increase capital investment from €10-€18 million annually. To my government, education is far more than building one school every year.

It is no use having a new state of the art school with most surrounding schools in a dilapidated state. This is why we embarked on an extensive maintenance programme on which the government has invested heavily. We believe that smaller schools contribute towards a better community and enhance the education experience. Although we have invested approximately 80% more than what was spent during the previous administration, we are well aware that we still have a long way to go.

This government has spent or allocated a massive €50 million on new schools and on a widespread maintenance programme. This capital expenditure includes a school in Kirkop, an adult resource centre in Wardija, the renovation of the Primary school and a new childcare centre in Zebbug, the extension and refurbishment of the primary school in Gharghur and that of the primary school in Xewkija, Gozo; and eventually we will build a new primary school in Qawra.

This means that the average spend on primary school students is €10,000 and €14,500 per capita on secondary school students. Schools are more than just classrooms, students and teachers – they generate employment and welfare and are also an environmental project for the whole community. Construction and refurbishment are but two areas of capital investment. We have also invested heavily on IT with about €20 million being spent on digital technology for classrooms, to boost interactive education.

Possibly the biggest investment on education is the strategy to consolidate and build on the successes achieved in education and employment. This strategy has four main goals in line with European and world benchmarks.

One of the main objectives is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our education to increase relevance of learning to the labour market. This, we hope to address by reducing the gap in educational outcomes between students attending different schools and by raising the bar in certain competences to increase student attainment.

We need to support educational achievement of children at-risk-of-poverty and reduce high incidence of early school leavers. We are promoting lifelong learning to ensure a greater participation in adult learning but we must also raise levels of student retainment and attainment in further, vocational and tertiary education.

Budgeting issues and the subsequent problems are often discussed during inter-ministerial meetings with my colleagues of the European Union. I am very proud to say that we do not have any such problems. In fact the government’s investment in education, on schools, in the teaching staff and on our schoolchildren is increasing annually. Public figures show that my Ministry’s expenditure has gone up from approximately €414 million in 2013 to around €500 million in 2015.

We envisage another increase during this financial year and a planned hefty budgetary projection next year. Our strategic objectives include the development of quality education; inclusive lifelong learning; empowering learners to be creative and global citizens; in short shaping the future educational agenda.

Recently I commented that the best football shoes and top-of-the-range football outfits do not make a ‘Lionel Messi’. Yes it is very important to have the right equipment, the right buildings and the right environment in schools. But clothes don’t make the player, it is the player that makes the clothes.

The educational experience goes beyond the building of new schools or the provision of tablets and new computers. We will continue to invest in our teachers and in teacher training and in providing our students with a complete education and by providing alternative methods and opportunities.

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment

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