The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

Strategy policy for early leaving from education and training

Justyne Caruana Wednesday, 16 June 2021, 07:37 Last update: about 3 months ago

For decades, Malta had a high rate of early school leavers. Way back in 2014, the first ever national policy for the prevention of ESL (Early School Leaving) was published.

This strategy has contributed to a constant and significant decrease in the number of students who leave education and training with less than an MQF Level 3 qualification (ELET).

Although Malta’s ELET rate is still above the ten percentage rate target set by the EU, Malta has been one of the few countries that has decreased the rate by more than five percentage points during the last years, and has consistently been registering a decrease during the last 10 years.

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It is now the appropriate time to review what has been done and come up with a new strategy. The new National Strategy Policy for Early School Leavers is based on the principles of ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning; reducing the gaps in educational outcomes between boys and girls and between students attending different schools; decreasing the number of low achievers; raising the bar in literacy, numeracy, and science and technology competence; increasing student achievement; supporting the educational achievement of children at-risk-of-poverty and low socio-economic status; raising the levels of student retention and attainment in further, vocational, and tertiary education and training; and increasing participation in lifelong learning and adult learning.

The importance of quality childcare services, which lays the foundations for children’s education and character development is a top priority. Childcare centres offer customised services and quality care to all children, especially children at risk of social exclusion. Activities at these centres target all areas of child development, including social, emotional, physical, intellectual, communicative, and creative aspects. The employed professionals are trained to maximise engagement in a safe and enjoyable setting, while offering varied daily programmes that include stimulating play activities.

It is thus important that free childcare services should be eligible to all children within the target age range. Eligibility should not be restricted to children whose parents are in employment or in education as this prevents access to many of those most in need and most likely to benefit from this service.

We should have in place initiatives which improve access to books to children from low income/education families as early as possible in the child’s life. Moreover, schools’ administrators should continue with their efforts to engage parents in their children’s education.

Our Primary schools should focus more on instilling literacy trends in our younger generations. Literacy is based on a group of cultivated skills that serve as a basis for learning, communication, language use, and social interaction. Literacy ranges from the fundamental ability to read, write, listen, and understand, to higher level processing skills, where learners will be able to deduce, interpret, monitor, and elaborate on learning matters. Literacy acquisition is not only a cornerstone of academic responsibility, but it is also the basis for future learning and participation in society and employment.

To eliminate barriers in examinations, examination boards should take into consideration the bilingual nature of our society and should be more flexible in allowing students to opt for their language of preference when sitting for their examinations. Furthermore, more communication and open dialogue needs to take place between MATSEC and our schools to determine what could be the best path towards academic success according to necessity.

Post-Secondary institutions and adult learning providers should embark on an outreach programme to monitor students who are at high risk of dropping out. The outreach programme should be run by professionals who seek to provide the right support for difficulties the students might encounter.

Notwithstanding all the efforts, there will always be students who disengage from the educational system. It is thus vital that we develop an action plan to offer a second chance education programmes in all post-secondary and adult learning institutions, targeting those students who disengage themselves from mainstream education.

Within the continuous globally changing demographics, research suggests a strong correlation between ELET and students’ wellbeing at school and their socio-economic and multicultural background. Tackling ELET risk factors in the initial stages of children’s educational journey supports a more inclusive and holistic educational system, which is why this policy adopts prevention and intervention strategic pillars as the first two actions, while the third pillar is a compensation measure that targets post-compulsory education, including adult learning provision, thus aiming for an increase in student enrolment and retention within this sector.

To effectively implement this strategy, I strongly encourage that a strategic partnership be formed between educational institutions, guardians, communities, policy makers, employers, trade unions, and civil society that runs parallel to the current socio-economic realities. By working together, we will be more successful in tackling the early school leaving issue since by doing so, we will achieve equity education, social justice, and inclusion.

 

Justyne Caruana is the Minister for Education

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