A fish and a monkey enter a classroom

Different children are asked to sit down for the same lesson and examination, then they aare branded disobedient when they become frustrated and act out during the lesson and failures when they don’t pass the exam

Since trade schools were shut down in Malta there has been a huge vacuum in vocational and applied learning
Since trade schools were shut down in Malta there has been a huge vacuum in vocational and applied learning

The classroom is full of different animals, fish and monkeys, but also squirrels, penguins, birds, dogs, cats and sheep. It’s a nice mix. The teacher comes into the classroom and tells them that there will be an exam today. He opens the window and points towards a tree. The test consists of climbing that tree. The fish cannot move from their water and the sheep are looking at each other puzzlingly. The penguins have already accepted they will fail. The birds know it will require little effort. The monkeys and cats need to plan a bit how they will climb the tree, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. The dogs will find it quite a struggle.

This is something that happens every day in our schools. Different children are asked to sit down for the same lesson and same examination. They are branded disobedient when they become frustrated and act out during the lesson and failures when they don’t pass the exam. Over the years, parents were told that there was a problem and that the child was not fitting in.

The fish, penguins and dogs have great talents, but the talents don’t involve climbing trees. So it is with your child – he or she may be artistic, musical or has a knack of building things with his or her own hands. He or she may be great at writing software, solving mathematical problems, tackling engineering problems and mechanical challenges or creative writing and the arts.

The changes that we’re proposing have come from the grassroots. Teachers, educators, heads and college principals have repeatedly stated that this “one-size-fits-all” approach is leaving way too many students behind. About 20% leave secondary schooling without the necessary skills-set for the outside world. Since trade schools were shut down in Malta there has been a huge vacuum in vocational and applied learning. MCAST, to a certain extent, has helped to close this vacuum, however at age 16 it may be too late in the day to help those disillusioned and demotivated by their educational experience.

The proposals (myjourney.edu.mt/policy) we have put forward over the past few days aim to address this imbalance. What we’re saying is very clear: what is working, the theory-based academic approach, will be kept as it is. But we’re offering some new opportunities in vocational and applied learning for those who are desperate for something different. These opportunities, that exist in small doses now, will be greatly expanded.

Over the past three years we’ve introduced alternative programmes such as the ALP, XL/Achieve through Prince’s Trust International, allowed schools to develop programmes for disengaged students, extended Youth.Inc and others, and we’ve seen how successful they can be.

Young people who had been branded failures found a new avenue. They realised that their inability to climb a tree didn’t mean they were unable to swim or run. They found their potential and we’ve had some amazing success stories. So, in many ways, the proposals we have put forward have already been tried and tested, with great results.

I am pleased that, in preliminary meetings, we have had a lot of support. The reason is that these changes did not come from me or the government, but from the educators and students themselves. Other institutions, such as MCAST and the University of Malta, are also backing these new ways of learning.

Many have asked, why wait until 2019 to introduce these changes? Often, we as politicians and policy makers, are attracted to the short game, the quick changes that, we hope, change a bit here and there and deliver results tomorrow. We do not want the short-termism of the electoral cycle to dictate our education action plan, which is why we’re going for the long-term approach that guarantees better results.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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