Inspiring children to a better education

Getting students into classrooms is not enough - we want to make them learn and to succeed, we need to create new modules according to the needs of the teachers themselves

The number of those not even sitting for the SEC exams was alarming and what was worse, it seems that the system had given up on them
The number of those not even sitting for the SEC exams was alarming and what was worse, it seems that the system had given up on them

Over the years education has been used as a platform for the government of the day to boast of its investment in new schools and an increase in the number of full time students in tertiary education. A focus on the quality of education, rather than quantity, is important and this has been missing.

Back in 2013, we realised that 20 per cent of the 3,000 fifth formers every year were being ‘lost’. These were neither in education, employment or in training and for these students there was a gap between their schooling years and adult life.

We needed to address the difference between educational quality and quantity. The number of those not even sitting for the SEC exams was alarming and what was worse, it seems that the system had given up on them. We realised that these young adults needed a different way of learning and they needed social support.

In the past we referred to these students as ‘problem children’. In actual fact the problem was not the children, it was the system that did not recognise and develop their individual skills and failed to offer them enough support to face the difficult social contexts. On several occasions I personally met students on a one-to-one basis and it was obvious that some were very talented. Fifth formers back then were given an option and this was the first step towards an education-based development strategy.

“Perfection is not of this world”, but improvement is. I believe that the only way forward is through the development of schooling for economic growth. As such, we have set three priorities that will guide us along this route: Education for all; social justice, and an improved quality of education that gives a more meaningful educational experience.

When MCAST re-opened its doors in 2001, it was a step in the right direction and I was always supportive of this policy, which offered new opportunities to our youngsters and which helped reduce the number of school leavers by 11 per cent. But now we have to provide alternatives to cater for the remaining 19 per cent. Ideally, we do not have any drop-outs. We now need to focus on smaller and personalised courses and we need to develop vocational education further. This should start at secondary level and eventually be adopted also with our primary school pupils.

The XL programme, organised by the Prince’s Trust International, is aimed at 13 to 19 year old students and it was originally introduced in seven schools; this year we are delivering this programme in all colleges in Malta and Gozo as well as in Learning and Support Centres in our islands. This is not an inferior form of education but a different one which has helped around 400 students obtain the necessary qualifications to further their education at other educational institutions such as MCAST and ITS.

Our second priority is a social one. We must address poverty, and education is one of the pillars on which we are basing our anti-poverty agenda. Education and poverty are not exactly a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. I believe that one needs to get out of poverty to obtain an education. There is a significant number of children who attend school amid great social difficulties, some not even financially related. Children need stability and serenity at home and parents have a duty to provide this. This year we are setting up a fund to enable schools and teachers to help these children. We are also evaluating the possibility of legislating on the need to empower the authorities to deal with special cases that could be detrimental to the welfare of the children.

Improving the quality of education is our other priority. The setting up of the Institute for Education in Pembroke is the first step towards an improved quality of learning. The New Skills Agenda for Europe stresses the importance of offering the correct approach, support and training to ensure that the opportunities in today’s world can be met by students with the right skills and provide tomorrow’s young adults with a better quality of life.

The Institute for Education provides professional programmes that support teachers and educators at all levels. It ensures that teachers can provide the quality educational process that has lasting effects on their students. The courses being delivered by the Institute have been accredited by NCFHE and Post Graduate certificates at MQF Level 7 are being offered. An MQF Level 6 course for supply teachers has also been created. Another course for supply LSAs has been organised by the Institute.

Getting students into classrooms is not enough. We want to make them learn and to succeed we need to create new modules according to the needs of the teachers themselves. Educators are being encouraged to develop and adopt personalised teaching methods that they may be in a position to deliver the best possible educational experience to their students.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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