The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Our children’s future - our top priority

Owen Bonnici Friday, 20 November 2020, 07:37 Last update: about 14 days ago

Today on World Children’s Day, we not only celebrate our children, but their future – a future based on today’s children. But we can only celebrate this future if we give our children the best possible in all sectors which affect them – primarily a quality education.

Children's rights include the right to health, education, family life, play and recreation, an adequate standard of living and to be protected from abuse and harm.

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We know that making sure our children have access to a good education helps put them on a path to success. Building a strong foundation for our country’s youth means ensuring they have all the tools in place to grow up embracing a good education.

Our vision is to continue to strengthen our education sector so that our future generations are enriched, not just educated; empowered, not just skilled.

Children start their lives in the cosy atmosphere of a home, where they get their first taste of education. However one also needs support from the community - family, educators, friends, and professionals to help you on this rewarding journey. This is enriched when our children start their scholastic life. For some, this is as early as attending child care.

I boast of the childcare service provided in our country, as we firmly believe that childcare and early education are of central importance to our society and a key responsibility for Government.

As stated by Alexia Vella, JobsPlus CEO, to the members of the Public Accounts parliamentary Committee recently, families who avail of free childcare are benefitting from €4,000 a year for every child.

There are 146 free childcare centres in Malta and Gozo with the last four being registered in October and by the end of last month, almost 6,500 children were attending these centres ranging in ages from new-borns to three years, when they then begin kindergarten. When the scheme began in 2013, there were 69 private centres. Last year there were 7,341 children attending these centres.

The Ministry for Education and Employment’s Foundation of Educational Services, has 13 childcare centres with over 350 children attending.

The service provided attracts praise from visiting dignitaries, as Sri Lankan Minister Chandrani Bandara, who holds responsibility for the Ministry for Women and Children’s Affairs stated during a visit: that Malta should serve as a role model for other countries in several sectors, including child care.

We know that the early years of a child’s life are incredibly important to their development and future success, and that’s why we are providing the best possible to our children from their childcare centre age.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai said, “Books and pens are our most powerful weapons. One child, one book, one teacher can change the world. Education is the only solution for the future.”

And I reiterate that the best education that our children can have, is from their dedicated educators in class.

When our known “normality” was challenged by a stronger spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we soldiered on with our determination and resolve, carefully carving a way forward so that our children are not deprived of a proper education.

Once the local Health Authorities published their protocol for the re-opening of schools after consultation with WHO, we implemented more than 50 measures to curb and combat as much as possible the potential transmission of COVID-19 in the classrooms as advised by the public health experts. The end result was the provision of a strong investment allocated by the Government so that our schools could be opened according to the protocols issued by the competent authorities which so far amounts to a total of €26 million. And we will continue to invest further, according to the needs of today.

In fact next year, another €12 million is expected to be spent on recurring costs in view of the same protocols. We will not let anything hinder us where investment in education – investment in our children - is concerned.

We did not leave any stone unturned to make sure that schools reopen for the benefit of our children.  Whole systems and established practices had to be adapted and revised for the safest re-opening of schools possible and an endless list of meetings took place with the recognised educators' union (MUT), combing through various points and details for hours on end.  It was a fruitful exercise.

Schools have successfully re-opened and, after more than a month, our educators have attracted the respect of a wide section of our population for their exemplary adherence to the health authority protocols. As a Minister, I am proud of each and every one of them.  As a parent, I am grateful for providing our children with the best education possible through these challenging times.  If we keep on following the protocols with the necessary rigour and discipline, I am sure that the current academic year will be a successful one. 

The last months, however, were not only about COVID-19 and protocols. Investment in our children’s future, to enable them to get the best returns for their efforts during their school life, is an ongoing commitment. Take the measures highlighted in the budget for 2021 – which up to now, will go down in history as the largest budget ever allocated to the education and employment sector.

In total the budget for the year 2021 gives a total increase of €65 million without taking into account European funds. A key priority in this sector will be infrastructure projects.

When dealing with our children’s future, we will not let any hurdles stop us. Our children’s future is a priority. They deserve the best.

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