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20 September 2014

‘No Correlation’ between number of holidays and academic excellence

 - Sunday, 12 September 2010, 00:00

by STEPHEN CALLEJA

Research shows that there is no correlation between longer school days and longer school hours and better academic results, because “achievement depends on a number of factors including school leadership, effective teachers, school ethos and parental involvement among others,” the Education Ministry said.

It was replying to questions sent by The Malta Independent on Sunday following the publication of a report, on 15 August, which stated that Maltese schoolchildren enjoy the most holidays compared to their European counterparts.

Maltese students will have 90 days of holidays in the 2010-2011 academic year, which is 50 per cent more than the 60 that their counterparts in The Netherlands will have, statistics provided by the European Commission show.

Malta is at the top of the list of 29 countries, most of them European Union member states, included in the “Organisation of school time in Europe” report published by the EC. The report deals with the number of holidays children will have between the start of the scholastic year in 2010 till the end of the summer holidays in 2011. The Netherlands is at the bottom of the list, while the average number of holidays for the countries included is 76 days of vacation.

Maltese teachers have 80 days of vacation every year, as their scholastic year starts and finishes before that of students. The country where teachers enjoy the most holidays is France, with 88 days, but there schools finish between 4 and 6pm, whereas in Malta they finish at 2.30pm. Italian teachers also have more holidays than the Maltese, with 87 days, but then their working week is longer because they work on Saturdays during the scholastic year.

Maltese teachers, like their students, are also the only ones mentioned in the report to benefit from half-days during the whole month of June.

This newspaper followed up this report by sending a set of

questions to the Education Ministry. Rather than replying to them one by one, the ministry chose to give a general comment on the situation.

It said that one of the current measures of excellence in education is the attainment of the Lisbon targets. Malta has consistently achieved positive results in this area, as can be seen from the 2009 Progress Report issued by the EU Commission. For example the report indicates that Malta has reduced its number of early school leavers by 28 per cent when comparing 2000 and 2008 figures. This is well above EU-27 figures, which amounted to 15.2 per cent.

Another example is the participation in Early Childhood Education where Malta is significantly above the EU average, the ministry said. Malta also has one of the highest rates of students with special education needs being integrated in mainstream education.  

Malta figures highly in the average number of foreign languages learned per student, it added. In the case of MST (Maths, Science and Technology) graduates, in 2000-2007, Malta achieved the highest rates of growth per year at 13.6 per cent. Of these, the percentage of female graduates has also increased and in 2007 it even surpassed the EU average.

In spite of these significant improvements, there are areas that need to be improved and, overall, Malta needs to strive harder to fulfil all its targets, the ministry said. However, considering Malta’s starting point, its education system can be considered as achieving measurable towards excellence.

“There is no proof of any correlation between the length of the holidays and the number of students who continue studying after the compulsory school age. The government is trying to improve the number of those continuing with further education through other programmes provided by post secondary and tertiary education institutions, and the record number of students who registered to enter university and MCAST this year prove that these programmes are attracting a larger number of students who continue with their studies,” the ministry said.

It is recognised that the present curriculum is more content oriented than is desired in today’s fast changing world. Indeed the new Draft National Curriculum Framework intends to address this issue concretely, it added.

The Maltese school structure system is to date the most

successful flexitime workplace in the country, allowing thousands of teachers, predominantly female, who as parents can work in a flexible manner by juggling school-related work with home management and raising a

family.

In the meantime, the 10 State School Colleges and other entities, such as the Malta Sports Council, the Lifelong Learning Department within the DQSE and the Foundation for Educational Services (FES), are increasing their range of services and activities for students after school hours. This does not include the valid contribution in this area of the non-state and voluntary organisations, the ministry said.

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