Editorial: An educated society is a stronger society

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 June, 2021 at 2:48 pm by Andre Camilleri

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”. Locally, we must stop and ask ourselves if that is a weapon we really want.

After its ‘Economic Vision’, which identified education as one of the five pillars on which our future prosperity depends, the government has recently launched another consultation document entitled ‘Early Leaving from Education and Training (ELET) – The Way Forward 2020-2030’.

Malta’s educational system has been worryingly underperforming for decades. Consequently, there has been no shortage of strategic reforms aiming at reducing the endemic problem of early school leaving.

This ‘new’ strategy projects itself to continue what the Minister of Education, Justyne Caruana, calls “the first national policy on early school-leaving of 2014”. While some improvements have been achieved over the past decade, Malta still ranks in the penultimate place on the EU index of early school-leavers. This acute reality challenges the credibility of administrations commitment to making Malta “the best in the world in the coming decade”.

At first glance, it can be seen there isn’t anything groundbreaking in this new strategic document. The three pillars to kick start the change necessary to improve educational achievement have been described as prevention, intervention and compensation.

These are the very same pillars identified in the European Commission document ‘Reducing early school leaving: Key messages and policy support’ published in 2013. It could be asked why this wasn’t put to action, and the ELET fails to examine why we are underperforming thoroughly. Of course, the reasons are incredibly multi-faceted, but this isn’t an issue we can brush aside. Without thorough examination, we could end up in the very last undesirable position for educational achievement in the whole of the EU.

To add salt to the injury, The number of students choosing to continue into post-secondary education has been on a consistent downturn during a five-year period, according to the latest statistics published by the NSO last week.

While 6,000 students registered for sixth form education in the 2014/15 academic year, the number had spiralled to 4,866 by March 2019 – a decline of almost 19 per cent. The total number of post-secondary and tertiary students stood at 20,806 in 2019.

The most popular fields of study for post-secondary and tertiary students were business, administration and law, which accounted for 24.6% of enrolled students, health at 19.7%, arts and humanities at 10.6% and engineering, manufacturing and construction at 9.7%.

In terms of geographical location, students attending post-secondary and tertiary institutions mostly came from the northern harbour region (29.3%), followed by the northern region (16.5%). The southern harbour region accounted for 15.5% of students, while the smallest cohort (7.9%) came from Gozo.

 An educated society is a stronger society, and such figures are an immense cause for concern. We must take a long hard look at addressing these issues and even geographically, if we want Malta to remain competitive and ensure both wellbeing and prosperity for our economy.

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