Throughout the centuries, many have attempted to postulate a sense of meaning and purpose to education. William Bennett, who in the mid-1980s served as US secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, stated that “all real education is the architecture of the soul”.
How true indeed. It is therefore only natural to restate that education, being a fundamental tenet of society, requires a continued investment by the state.
This is pivotal for a sustained and endured framework enabling a nation based on knowledge, keen to face contemporary impeding challenges and zealous to discover novel opportunities. This is where Malta is failing.
We have been shadowed for months by the onslaught of the pandemic, where students of all ages suffered emotionally, socially, academically and psychologically due to the absence of physical teaching experiences and the inherent need to socialise with their peers and friends; where educators suffered fatigue and exhaustion while quickly trying to adapt to new protocols and teaching regimes.
If this wasn’t enough, only last October we witnessed a deafening lack of a strategy for the reopening of schools which contributed to students lacking teachers.
Even at tertiary levels, a study conducted by the Faculty of Social Wellbeingfound that many students felt more anxious, exhausted and depressed with a significant association between their fears and an increased incidence of substance or alcohol abuse.
And now we’re at it once again, whereby the rising numbers in COVID-19 cases have plunged the entire system into darkness and, due to lack of planning and management, the authorities once again fail to provide us with light at the end of the tunnel through an open and communicated contingency plan.
Instead, the government replaced two education ministers within a short span of time and the third one had to forcibly resign after causing irreparable harm to an already fatigued crucial sector that she was responsible for.
Justyne Caruana’s flagrant abuse of power in using her office to dish out a lucrative contract to a friend who had no expertise in the sector, while concealing his incompetence in engaging others to perform it instead, and still agreeing to pay him a staggering €15,000 contract, was incredulous.
It was incredulous not only because of its nature but also because she is as blind as a bat towards the shortage in educators and towards the astounding rate of early school leavers, which falls short of the EU’s benchmark.
The government has, for these past months, worked towards a situation where our education sector was in free fall. And now, who’s next?
The education sector needs to be addressed with a great sense of urgency. It needs a paradigm shift in approach and mentality. This is why I believe that, as soon as possible, a significant national consultation, including all the relevant stakeholders, needs to be held aimed at devising policies and strategies in order to lower the number of early school leavers.
We seriously need to consider the reshaping of our educational system in order to have generations of critical thinkers, who, in return, contribute to creativity and innovation.
School curricula need to include additional research-based projects rather than merely grading students on examinations, thus stimulating cognitive skills and shaping processes of thought.
Furthermore, we need to address the infrastructural realities of various school complexes as soon as possible and adapt them to the requirements of this modern-day and age, including air-conditioned classrooms, bigger outdoor spaces and an environment that positively affects the mental health and serenity of many thousands of students, educators and workers attending or working there.
But, above all, educators require added respect and dignity in recognition of their profession and, hence, the PN’s pledge to radically improve the salary scales of every professional while improving their working conditions.
Besides, in recognising the lack of students opting to read for a teaching degree, we pledge to increase their stipends in order to attract more youths to choose a career in education.
Education is the cornerstone of a nation’s economic, social and cultural well-being and the goal of true education is to fuse the imparting of academic knowledge to personal development, since, ultimately, that is what moulds each and every one of us individually and collectively.
This is why, reverberating the voices of many students, parents and educators alike, I am committed to relentlessly advocating for a much-needed overhaul to the system which cannot be procrastinated any further. These are the resolutions I long for my nation to undertake.
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