Editorial | 11 years of compulsory schooling must not be overlooked

This must also be done within a framework that outlines the modern-day skills students should be exiting with at the end of compulsory schooling


Government’s decision to increase student stipends for those attending post-secondary and tertiary education courses that lead to jobs the country needs is a step in the right direction.

The revision announced last month applies to 46 courses deemed to be high priority for the country.

When announcing the initiative, the education ministry’s advisor David Spiteri Gingell said the reform reflects the current and future needs of Malta’s workforce and social needs.

Students attending general courses receive a stipend of €106 every four weeks, while those reading ‘prescribed’ courses receive €187, and a ‘high priority’ course will net €375 a month.

The reform has reclassified 36 courses as prescribed and 10 courses as high priority, leading to an additional outlay of €6.5 million over three years. Over 4,400 students at University and MCAST will benefit from the changes over the period.

Education Minister Clifton Grima said the increase incentivises more students to study in sectors where the country wants to ensure it has enough skilled workers. These sectors include teaching at primary level and STEM subjects, the digital transformation and the green economy.

With AI experts predicting that many existing jobs could become obsolete over the coming years as a result of systems that work with artificial intelligence, it is imperative that Malta gears up for this future. And it is a future that is not too far in the distance.

Raising stipends, however, is just one cog in the education system that requires change. Stipends address that cohort of students exiting secondary school and choosing what post-secondary courses to take. There are at least 11 years of compulsory schooling before students reach post-secondary stage.

It is these 11 years of schooling that require particular attention because it is in this decade of a person’s life that the foundations for the future are set.

It is useless focussing on STEM subjects at the post-secondary and tertiary level stage when science in primary schools is still considered a peripatetic subject – unfortunately it became an expandable subject during the COVID interlude when peripatetic teachers were used to fill gaps in the system.

Special focus must be applied to address the big learning gaps that were created between 2020 and 2021 as a result of school disruptions caused by the pandemic, especially among students who were in their early years during that period.

It is useless talking about artificial intelligence and IT when there are still too many children who cannot read and write properly in Maltese and English. Illiterate students are a reality.

It is useless aiming for a well-educated workforce when subjects such as history, social studies and geography that help expand a student’s general knowledge are often side-lined by students because they are taught in parrot-like fashion.

There is also the issue of reform fatigue among educators in primary and secondary schools. Too many changes have happened over a short span of years without the rationale behind them being explained to educators. Furthermore, not enough analysis has been done to understand the outcome of these changes, leaving everyone confused as to why relatively new methods and systems are being changed once again.

Educators also complain that most of these changes are drafted by academics who have long been divorced from the classroom experience and are unaware of contemporary social realities.

Furthermore, a thorough rethink of inclusion methods is required to determine whether these are achieving their aims.

The reintroduction of trade schools, or trade subjects within existing secondary school setups is crucial because a massive skills gap was creating when these were shut down.

These are just but a few of the issues that have to be addressed in the education system to ensure children exit compulsory schooling with a skill set that allows them to continue developing their talents. But any change has to be carried out through an organic process that first listens to educators and ensures they have the necessary resources and backup to achieve the required targets. This must also be done within a framework that outlines the modern-day skills students should be exiting with at the end of compulsory schooling.

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