The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Best decisions in a timely manner

Owen Bonnici Friday, 22 May 2020, 06:40 Last update: about 8 months ago

Malta established a framework for the preparation of the eventual re-opening of educational and training institutions. This framework, which follows the model proposed by the United Nations, is being discussed with the main stakeholders, at all levels, from childcare to tertiary level and includes the different unions and associations.

The framework considers five main aspects: health and safety, information, development and training, the need for quality education and its universal access, and the necessary financing.

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This week I actively participated in a highly interesting meeting with fellow European Union Education Ministers, during which we exchanged views on the eventual re-opening of education and training institutions.

During this exchange, I explained that through the framework, and by means of the strong co-operation with the Health Authorities, the Government is confident that as a country we will take the best decisions for the benefit of our students in a timely matter. 

I also explained that Malta was proactive from the start of these extraordinary circumstances brought about by Covid-19. Decisions relating to the closure of all educational and training institutions from early years up until the tertiary level were issued in early March in a holistic and timely manner.

The Ministry immediately coordinated with all stakeholders at all levels on a way forward with regard to all forms of national examinations and assessments and students progression from one year to another. It was established that online teaching will take place at all levels.

In the meantime, a number of other initiatives were taken, including the setting up of a working group composed of major stakeholders that has been managing online education efforts and the impact on the curriculum for this scholastic year and the next.

A miinisterial board was also set up to cater for the distribution of internet access, working machines and lunches to vulnerable children.  In addition, a helpline was setup in order to assist with issues pertaining to the education sector including psycho-social support.

Secondary Education Certificate (O-level) examinations will not be held, and a predictive assessment for the students will be carried out by the Matriculation and Secondary Education Certificate Examinations Board (MATSEC) instead. A certificate will still be issued to those students who pass, so that they may still be able to attend post-secondary schools. Every SEC student will nonetheless retain the right to sit for SEC exams in the coming September. Intermediate and A-Levels will be postponed to September, with resits available in December, so as to allow students to progress to their tertiary education without penalising those students who sit for resits.

Entry requirements both to the Junior College (Sixth Form) and the University of Malta have been adjusted to take into account the disruption caused by the current circumstances and the conditions under which students will be sitting for their Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) and Matriculation examinations in September 2020. Therefore, in most cases, entry requirements are less than those usually required.

I also referred to the think tank about post COVID-19 education and beyond which was set up with the principal aim of putting forward reflections in order to be able to turn future challenges into present opportunities.

Also, I spoke about issues relating to trans-national cooperation and learning mobility. I explained that we must be sensitive with regards to the negative effects of COVID-19 on physical cross-border mobility and cooperation, and encouraged the use of virtual possibilities.

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From its inception in mid-2014, the National Literacy Agency has steadily made a difference and is now well established in in its field to promote and ensure the delivery of the different aspects of the National Literacy Strategy for all in Malta and Gozo, and serves as a main driver in the field of literacy. It seeks to promote and enhance lifelong and life wide, high quality literacy practices among children, youth, adults, third country nationals and persons with learning difficulties. The Agency also strives to improve literacy outcomes, resulting in inclusive practices, higher educational qualifications, and better job prospects.

Through this agency and together with my colleague Michael Falzon, I had a symbolic event this week during which we donated more than a hundred and ten books in the Maltese and English languages to the St Joseph Home in Santa Venera. Symbolic in the sense that we will eventually donate books to all residential homes for children.

The aim behind this initiative is to enrich residential homes with libraries filled with books for children and teenagers. The initiative named ‘Books are your best friends’ will be offered to 18 residential homes. More than 200 children and teenagers are expected to benefit from this novel initiative. The homes will be given attractive and high-quality books of different genres, both fiction and non-fiction, in the Maltese and English languages.

As a Government we have always been committed to emphasizing the importance that our children and youth fall in love with reading, especially during the difficult times we are currently facing. Books help us enter into different worlds of our choice, and contribute immensely to educational advancement.

I echo Minister Falzon’s statement that literacy is undoubtedly the key towards success. It is of great importance that all children share the same opportunities, especially vulnerable children. 

Through the initiative ‘Books are your best friends’ the Agency is seeking to continue pushing forward the message on the importance of books and encourage children of all ages to read more.

The Agency has already distributed 100 books in each class from Year 1 to Year 6 in State Schools, mobile libraries in the Rainbow, Wonderland and Disneyland wards in Mater Dei Hospital, and created 12 libraries in various public spaces through the help of local councils.

We will continue to implement more measures in this field, as we stated during my first days at the helm of this Ministry. We want every student to succeed.

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