Education as if reality matters

We must stop confusing qualifications with skills and competences. You can be qualified and still lack the skills and character to be able to survive in the 21st century

Being able to develop as an individual and possess much needed life skills is more important than learning by memory an academic subject
Being able to develop as an individual and possess much needed life skills is more important than learning by memory an academic subject

It is ultimately in the nation’s interest to help people improve their education and become well-rounded citizens. Our education system is doing a good job overall, however there is still plenty of room for improvement. Over the years our students have become exam-centric. This is certainly not a recent phenomena and many other countries are facing the same issues we are.

When the focus of an education is an exam, a number of problems arise. First and foremost, the goal changes from getting an education to passing an exam. Getting an education almost becomes a secondary objective in the whole process. In addition to this it leaves little space for the deep learning that a modern education should be providing, and recent events show us how important these are. The notion of critical thinking, for example, is diluted in an environment whereby examinations take priority.

The ability to think logically, to present and counter an argument or to innovate are all skills that are in the shadows of today’s education system, simply because they do not provide the needed brownie points for an exam. It’s a little bit like being hungry and buying a fast food meal rather than take the time to do it properly and prepare something healthy.

We think just because the hunger is gone, we’re fine. Too much of that and you suddenly realise you’re in trouble. The need to assess students is still important, however the way we do it should be de-industrialised and instead of churning out students like on a factory line, we should take the time to help them discover themselves, their talents and their potential.

This not only makes sense from a human point of view, but also from an economic one. Problem solving, creativity, the ability to work with others, leadership are all qualities needed for both citizenship and employment. Industry leaders often tell me how people with respectable accredited skills often find difficulty in implementing relatively basic tasks simply because they lack important skills such as critical thinking, the ability to solve real problems, to communicate and work as a team. 

Being able to develop as an individual and possess much needed life skills is more important than learning by memory an academic subject, especially since as most of you well know, when you memorise things you end up forgetting pretty much everything a few years down the line, while if you learn it in a thoughtful and argumentative way you will be equipped with such knowledge for a long time. Learning to learn has become the main purpose of a formal education.

Over the past year and a half, a working group made up of figures in education have drawn up 26 proposals for the post-secondary education sector. The proposals, written after thorough feedback from teachers and students, include ones, which bring more emphasis on the life skills and development of the student as a whole rather than simply getting a pass mark in an examination.

The report and proposals are accessible oneducation.gov.mt and was based on first learning what are the main issues in this sector and a way to go about addressing them. Post-secondary is a very important phase in a student’s education path and we will be working towards helping more young people get a more meaningful educational experience.

We must stop confusing qualifications with skills and competences. You can be qualified and still lack the skills, knowledge, competences, the ability to continue learning and character to be able to survive and thrive in the turbulent and complex world of the 21st century. Therefore, a sound educational experience needs to deliver not only formal qualifications but also the other necessary qualities that help you have a meaningful life.

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education

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