The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

Education for peace

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 28 November 2021, 09:14 Last update: about 10 months ago

"Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there is no true education."  - Paolo Freire, Brazilian Educator


I had the great honour last week to address the 41st UNESCO General Conference in Paris. Ministers and delegates from around the world emphasised that peace should not be perceived as an abstract term which simply denotes the absence of war. In order to build peace, it is necessary to enhance trust and cooperation between all partners, and this can only be achieved by engaging in respectful dialogue.


The role of education and culture in fostering dialogue and peace and bringing people together can never be underestimated. Peace is best expressed through the harmonious co-existence of people with different socio-cultural backgrounds and beliefs. Peace can only prosper in societies where there is a mutual understanding and respect for different cultures. Prejudice and discrimination only hinder the harmonious interaction between us all.


Positive elements

Dialogue and cooperation are positive elements diffusing tensions and acting as a potential channel for cooperation and powerful tools towards peace-building, which is not simply conflict prevention.  On the other hand, social exclusion is the cause of a number of societal ailments including marginalisation, extremism and radicalisation. The latter have sadly become the direct roots for today's ruthless racism and terrorismm two new names for not-so-cold wars around the globe.

Malta showcases its rich and millenial culture for peace and inclusivity at similar international events.  History itself reminds us that, whichever war our islands have been involved in, it was never our choice to ignite hatred or divisiveness. 

Despite all the glamorous talk and colourful praise for gallantry, our ancestors ended up as victims, or at best, disposable and downthrodden servants of the powerful rulers of the wider seas around our shores. Lessons have been learned and we have gained world respect for what we really are - a peace-loving nation. 


Our robust democracy

It is never too late for us to reflect on the solid truth that what was once known as the island-fortress, has grown into a harmonised community, based on social justice, that can stand tall among nations.  Our mature status of a fair and just republic, sustained by its own hard-working people, can only be tainted or hurt by those who sow hatred and division. 

Social and political maturity and good citizenship, however, yield their own blessings when we collectively apply and partcipate in the methodology of our young but robust democracy.  The last eight years have shown that diligent planning and hard work can reach the targets we have set as a nation.  The challenges brought about by the pandemic could only be successfully overcome through our resilience and wise planning versus the doom and gloom of whoever cannot tolerate peace and prosperity when, time and again, is not elected to govern.


One year on

These thoughts came up as personal recollections during my short stay in Paris. They made me feel even prouder to represent our country at such a world forum. It also brought to mind the bold steps taken during my first year as Eduction Minister with the corresponding success that one will be proud of in normal times, let alone thoughout the hardest months of the pandemic.

Besides the resilience shown by educators and parents secure alternative ways of teaching online, my Ministry provided internet access and tools to families who could not cope with the addition expence involved.  We have successfully organised Catch-Up courses and extended the Summer School period, whilst extending also the hours for chidcare centres during week-days and also to open on Saturdays.  

We have also implemented an early childcare strategy (first of its kind within the EU) and introduced new standards for childcare centres.This was accompanied by heavy investment for strict and secure health and safety measures for the reopening of schools, after containing the number of lockdown days of schools due to Covid-19. 


Massive investment

In spite of all that, the Education Ministry went on and steadily increased its massive investment in various infrastructural projects for new schools and the refurbishment and upgrading of schools across both Malta and Gozo. This goes parallel with our drive to further accessibility and inclusivity.  

During the last year since November 2020 we have embarked on a huge drive to consolidate and enhance various schemes at tertiary level towards hands-on experience and btter opportunities for employability.  We did not only secure - and are now committed add a 10% increase - stipends for students at post-secondary levels, but also extended the number of hours students can work as part-timers while still remaining eligible for stipends and maintenance grants.


Higher skills for employment

Labour has always believed that education - whether academic or vocational - is meant for personal for personal enrichment. But we also hold fast to the natural link between schooling and employment as a fundamental sequence.  For this purpose we have brought together both higher education institutions for diverse Memoranda of Understanding with the country's industrial partners for the setting up of specialised programmes that are specifically tailor-made for the necessary skills required in today's employment opportunities. This also included a heavy investment in apprenticeship and placement schemes.

Indeed, a year on and counting makes me proud of all that we have achieved together, despite the challenges we bravely faced and overcome.  It is all meant to foster good-citizenship, which helps communication and dialogue. My role in politics within and will always be to secure that the outcome leads to a stronger and better qualified generation for today and tomorrow.


Dr Justyne Caruana is Minister for Education


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