When we give them a voice

I do think that we underestimate our children sometimes. If we give them the opportunity, they can offer refreshing points of view and, needless to say, they can be quite direct

This week we had a press event which was a bit different from usual. We joined a group of students, aged eight to nine years, from the Maria Regina College Naxxar Primary, and discussed the homework framework policy. A lot of adults were surprised when they heard the pupils make their arguments. Well-thought out, rational arguments were offered.

During the previous legislature I found it odd that in my schedule I had a lot of meetings with stakeholders and policymakers in different fields from the educational sector, but not youngsters. So, what do children and young people think of education? Why is their voice reserved to the occasional time?

The quality of the feedback was very good. I must say that the homework framework policy which we presented this week was raised by students just like the ones in Naxxar. They had repeatedly highlighted the stressful time they were having and simply wanted some space and air between school, homework and a ton of other activities and events in their schedule. This policy aims to give parameters to what should be expected at different levels, and was drawn up following extensive consultation with parents, educators and students themselves.

I do think that we underestimate our children sometimes. If we give them the opportunity, they can offer refreshing points of view and, needless to say, they can be quite direct. In the homework discussion that we had, some pointed out that they understood why homework was given and they deemed it important to do it. However, there seemed to be general agreement that there should be some form of balance, and that demanding too much from the little time off they had was not healthy.

The feedback we get from these meetings certainly influences policy, and that is very positive. I hope that we continue strengthening the voice of students, across all age groups, not just in primary school, because ultimately they are the reason we do all the work.

The Maltese language

This week we’ve also presented a list of ten proposals backed by the Council of Europe report (edu.gov.mt/malti) which have the aim of strengthening the Maltese language. Over the past five years we’ve worked very hard at strengthening languages and literacy rates. In 2014 we launched the National Literacy Strategy and that led to an array of initiatives with positive results.

More than 30,000 books in Maltese were distributed in local state schools over the past three years and we’ve substantially increased investment in the area, including the National Book Council. Since 2015 the total investment in resources and books in the Maltese language exceeded half a million euros. The Maltese language has also continued to spread its wings and today we have language programmes in Australia, China, and Germany.

We must carry on working hard to help young people strengthen their skills in the Maltese language.

As the Council of Europe report states, we also have a responsibility to provide equal opportunities for our children: equality of opportunity is a fundamental principle of Maltese education. This provides an important basis and rationale for future reform in support of all children.

This is a very well-thought out statement by the Council of Europe and I think we have to continue working on this philosophy to make sure we truly provide each and every child – no matter their background – with the real definition of equal opportunity.

 

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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