Educational investment, key for our economy

Providing the right tools for a better education is important because it provides a foundation for long-term growth

The real value lies with the educational experience that students receive
The real value lies with the educational experience that students receive

Investment in education is the key to the future of any economy.

In our electoral manifesto, we put education at the frontline; we pledged to upgrade and widen the base for education achievement and so far, we honestly believe we have delivered.

This year we have built two new schools: in Swatar (limits of Dingli) and a new middle school in Kirkop. These schools which have cost around €8 million each, and will cater for 500 students in each locality. The Swatar project will include science laboratories, ICT rooms, a large multi-purpose sports ground and an underground car park for 80 vehicles. The new school in Kirkop will also include a specialised history room overlooking archaeological finds and two outdoor sports grounds.

A completely refurbished Żebbuġ Primary School now boasts new classrooms and a new childcare centre which will open in December. This school, previously a secondary level one, was closed down a number of years ago and over the past months it has been completely refurbished. This will also cater for 500 students. The total investment for this project was €1 million.

As part of our refurbishment programme, we embarked on a €2.14 million project at the Dun Manwel Attard Young Adult Resource Centre in Wardija. The project involved the construction of an additional floor on the existing one as well as the construction of an entire new lecture block. Thanks to this project the school can now cater for double the number of students. The resource centre is aimed at young people, aged 16 to 22, with intellectual disabilities such as autism. The new areas consist of new classrooms, computer laboratories, Home Economics labs, science labs, a design and technology hub, drama rooms as well as a canteen.

Our investment obviously included a number of developments in Gozo. A €1.4 million project at Sir M.A. Refalo Sixth Form in Victoria, comprising the construction of an entire lecture block adjacent to the present school, which consists of seven lecture rooms, two Biology labs, two Physics labs, one Chemistry lab, four ICT labs and a multi-purpose hall.

Xewkija Primary School has been extensively refurbished. This includes the refurbishment of all classrooms, administration offices, toilet facilities and the main hall. New classrooms for extra-curricular and supporting lectures were created. The investment for this project was €520,000.

The University of Malta has been given its due importance. Whereas in 2012, the University budget was slashed by €2 million to €50 million, we’ve increased it by an additional €18 million, to reach €68 million. MCAST’s budget has also been substantially increased, by over 50%. In these last three years the annual budget has gone up from €15.4 million in 2012, to €23.4 million.

We had promised to improve stipends and this we did by increasing our allocation for stipends by more than €5 million: supporting those who repeat a year to keep them from dropping out. 

Through various schemes and projects we have given out over €15 million in scholarships since 2013. Most of these scholarships have gone to finance post graduate courses in local and foreign universities. We have also started financing a post-doc scheme to keep our best brains in Malta to carry out research at an advanced level. We have invested heavily in new laboratories at the university to provide the necessary research infrastructure and have also joined international networks like the European Molecular Biology Organization to widen research opportunities for our researchers.

We have introduced various curriculum initiatives over the past year. The creation of literacy teams across colleges is targeted at raising attainment levels. These are focused on learners who are identified as requiring support from an early age. Numeracy teachers have also supported classroom teachers in the use of innovative methods of teaching and learning Mathematics.

The students’ physical development has been supported through regular Physical Education lessons delivered both by specialist teachers as well as by class teachers. During the past scholastic year, the time allocation for Physical Education has doubled in line with the government’s commitment to reduce child obesity over the next few years. To this effect, pilot projects related to Physical Education at Kindergarten level have been launched in colleges, in both Malta and Gozo. The focus during the first years is to ensure that students have a grasp of the fundamental skills such as agility, balance and coordination while in the latter years, students are introduced to different disciplines and their specific skill requirements.

Religious Education in the Primary sector is changing its structure, composition and way forward through the introduction of the new syllabus backed up with a new workbook for each year. Primary teachers were provided with digital resources to ensure that their lessons are creative, interesting and interactive.

Ethics Education is gradually being offered for learners whose parents/guardians choose this subject instead of Religious Education, for their siblings. The Learning and Assessment Programme for Ethics Education has been established and teachers are being trained to provide professional assistance to the learners.

We have established the Institute for Education to start providing a wide range of professional development opportunities for all educators. Slowly but surely this institute, set up in 2015 is providing new opportunities for learning, upskilling and exploring new learning adventures for all educators.

In the secondary sector, a number of initiatives in Science, Mathematics and Technology have been achieved. The Teen Science Cafe’ offers Form II students opportunities to encounter, in their classroom, a number of local scientists. The focus of this project is the creation of an interactive informal exchange between the students and the professionals and to engage young students in conversation about science themes and career paths in an informal setting, thus impacting positively on students’ study and career choices. Other activities organized include the Science Safari, Maths Venture and Science Clubs after school hours in collaboration with Local Councils.

Languages are being taught through reading, understanding, writing and speaking. All four skills are equally important for communication. Foreign languages, including Italian, French, German, Spanish and Arabic are being actively promoted amongst all the students as essential tools for lifelong opportunities.

Talented students are being identified and challenged through a number of activities created specifically for them. These activities include the Malta Junior Science Olympiad, the Malta Mathematics Olympiad, the Franco-fete French quiz and the Malta Robotics Olympiad, amongst others. Students develop problem-solving skills, individual and team capabilities, creativity and innovation competences which they use in the tasks that they are assigned to complete during these activities.

The National Literacy Agency will continue with its popular programmes Aqra Mieghi/Read with Me, Reading Ambassadors, distribution of reading books on a large scale and other initiatives which will expand and reach out to more learners. 

Vocational Education will continue to be given the same parity of esteem as other subjects and will benefit from trained teachers and adequate resources. All students will be provided with learning paths which provide opportunities for further learning, including such programmes as the Prince’s Trust XL programme and the Core Curriculum Programme. 

Providing the right tools for a better education is important. I do not want to brag about our achievements in the educational sector for political mileage, but because education provides a foundation for long-term growth.

Investment in infrastructure and pedagogy is very important. However at the end of the day, the real value lies with the educational experience that students receive.

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment

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