Beyond the classroom

Student engagement promotes self-achievement and gives a different perspective to our children's scholastic years. Despite significant progress, we need to widen our skills base and develop our skills further

Student, teacher experiences clearly show that teaching practices should be synergised with student behaviour and expectations to ensure a comprehensive education which is indispensable for their transition to adulthood. The importance of education from the students’ perspective can never be stressed enough.

In one of my visits to one of our schools, particularly to the inauguration of the Dingli Secondary School earlier this week, one of the students gave a very important speech.

This student forms part of the students’ council and she was expressing the sentiments of her fellow schoolmates and their expectations. It was not just a prepared speech on the attributes of the new school but also one which included criticism and proposals for a better school life.

She started by thanking the staff at the school for their dedication and the authorities for the facilities offered at this new school. But she also spoke about the lack of certain resources, primarily those concerning facilities for the teaching of physical education.

She also highlighted the potential dangers of these shortcomings, both for students and staff.

Whilst expressing gratitude at having air conditioners in classrooms, she suggested the installation of solar panels to economise on electricity consumption. She also spoke about and made recommendations on transport arrangements and uniforms.

A revised curriculum would give teachers more flexibility to personalise their teaching and engage their students

This is definitely not ‘a voice in the wilderness’. We encourage student participation and the consultation meetings on the new University of Malta Act, primarily those with students, have generated enormous interest along with several proposals for the better running of the University and to enhance student experiences.

On another visit to the Zebbug Primary School, I was pleasantly surprised when young schoolchildren expressed their knowledge about our country’s Independence and what it means to the Maltese people.

They were well aware of the opportunities that enable us to continue with our economic and social growth. This is the student engagement that promotes self – achievement and gives a different perspective to our children’s scholastic years.

The National Commission for Further and Higher Education has just published a study on student engagement in sixth forms and the Junior College in Malta. Despite Malta’s performance in the employment and unemployment sectors and the economic wealth that the country has generated over the last few years, the early school-leaving age still remains among the highest in the European Union.

We have invested heavily to tackle this problem and we have made significant progress but we need to do more and we believe that by increasing student engagement we can improve the graph for a better meaningful education quicker. We have to widen our skills base and develop our skills even further.

Continuous professional development supports teachers in incorporating student engagement in their teaching styles. Adequate career guidance plays a major role in raising awareness among students as to the different paths available after compulsory education. They need more flexibility for self - discovery and schools should adopt open-door policies much more.

At the same teachers should have more say in the design of the curriculum, which is sometimes very rigid and demanding. This is what prevents the development of more engaging lessons. A revised curriculum would give teachers more flexibility to personalise their teaching and engage their students.

We also need to study alternative forms of assessment. Currently progression is exclusively dependent on summative and high – stakes examinations. By introducing credit system programmes in sixth forms we can create further possibilities for students to personalise their learning experience. Teaching can be a demanding profession.

But we will continue to work harder on teacher learning that supports student learning. A meaningful education in the 21st Century has to focus on all aspects of life.

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