The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

Holistic education

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 19 September 2021, 09:45 Last update: about 2 months ago

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." - Alvin Toffler, American writer.

We are living in challenging times. The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. The way we live, work, relate to one another and educate our children is changing in ways we never thought possible a few decades ago.  Artificial Intelligence, big data, the internet of things and automation are fast becoming an indispensable part of our lives. Our children need to be prepared to work with smart machines and keep up with the unprecedented disruption the fourth revolution is bringing to every industry on the planet.

 

Changing roles

Currently, education prepares our children for a particular job or discipline. In the not-so-distant future, we require education to help all children to adapt and develop the skills and the mindset to do anything rather than a particular thing.

All countries need to redefine the purpose of their education system and fast. Jobs traditionally performed by humans are being mastered by machines. This does not mean that we will be out of jobs. We have a very important role to play in the shaping of our future. Unlike the machines we are creating, we are masters in critical thinking, social interaction, creativity, imagination, and physical dexterity.

 

A lifelong exercise

These inbuilt attributes need amplification and direction. Rather than competing with machines, our children need to be guided to work side by side with the advanced automation that will one day relieve us from tedious repetitive tasks and help us focus on what is important in the building of a sustainable and fair world.  Education must therefore become a lifelong exercise for all people across all ages. It needs to develop and adapt according to the exigencies of the moment.

 

The rapid changes we are experiencing necessitate creativity and adaptability. Our children's ability to choose a career path and make it their only option is unsustainable in the long run. They need to switch from one path to another. We can only provide this ability through education guided by educators that, rather than feeding students' information, guide and help them facilitate their own learning and lines of inquiry.

 

Inclusion

We have the responsibility to ensure that every individual can receive a high-quality education, from pre-kindergarten to primary and secondary, to special education, to technical, vocational and higher education and beyond.  In the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, citizen's rights to inclusive education and keeping true to the fundamental values of respect of human rights, democracy, freedom and equality should be on top of every nation's agenda.

The challenges we are facing in the education sector globally stem mainly from changes to the economy and demographics, rising inequalities and the shifting role of educators.  Whilst treasuring their valuable role over the years, our educators need to become facilitators. Their role in society is of utmost importance - they are becoming guides to future workforces on how best to live in the digital era.

 

Quality and equity

UNESCO stresses the importance of incorporating all children into the education system. Inclusion and quality education go hand in hand. The highest performing education systems are those that combine quality with equity. This makes sense. Greater equality improves the well-being of entire populations and drastically raises national standards of achievement. Therefore, all learners, especially those from vulnerable or disadvantaged groups, must gain full access to quality education. They need to achieve key competencies to enable them to remain engaged in education and are given the support to move into employment.

In the long term, this reduces the risk of social exclusion. In Malta, through the Ministry for Education, we are screening newborn babies and children up to the age of sixteen. The primary aim of this screening is to identify any intellectual or physical developmental issues and address them holistically and immediately. The result is the capacity building of schools to raise achievement and close the gap between higher and lower achievers.

 

Proper learning environment

The goal of an inclusive classroom is to provide all students with an appropriate learning environment to allow each the opportunity to reach their potential. Every student can reach their full potential when given the opportunity, resources and guidance that suits their needs.

Our Labour Government is aware of this and through my Ministry is investing heavily in the infrastructure of our schools, the continued professional learning of our educators, the recruitment of facilitators and learning support educators. This goes hand in hand with education research that focuses on creating a multidisciplinary approach to learning. 

Our educators are aware of the importance of blended inclusive learning, digital literacy, lifelong training and professional development. COVID-19 has brought these crucial skills to the fore, and they coped and adapted admirably to reach out to our students in the months spent at home.

 

Transforming our approach

Today's young adults are more aware, decisive, and responsible for their own futures. This is a blessing. I am confident that the changes we need to make in our education system will fall into place naturally because our children are resilient and adaptable. The hard work, innovation and dedication of our educators will transform our approach to education holistically in the years to come.

Focusing on a holistic approach to education will change our society. It will improve and strengthen skills, values, communication, mobility, personal prosperity and freedom of all citizens. We will leave no one behind.  This is the vision of the Labour Government and I am determined to reach this goal as Minister for Education.

I believe that our resilience as a nation and the innovative and brilliant minds that make up the fabric of our society will continue to live through all our children. They are our most valuable treasure - the leaders of our future.

 

 


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