This week schools have reopened to welcome students for another academic year. So have post-secondary institutions and the University. For many of them it would have been a very profound change as they would have entered an institution for the first time, such as Sixth form, MCAST or University. Such a change would also have included specialisation in specific subjects. For other students the change would have entailed a choice of subjects as they would have moved from Middle School to Secondary School.
This new academic year needs to be placed within the context of the European Year of Year Skills. This initiative of the European Union is expected to give a fresh impetus to lifelong learning, empowering people and companies to contribute to the green and digital transitions, supporting innovation and competitiveness. We could add to this context, the impact of artificial intelligence on today’s and tomorrow’s world and how the education system needs to adapt to this.
What is evident from the objectives of the European Year of Skills is the lack of the word knowledge. I mention this because it is accepted that our education system is still based on imparting knowledge. Yet, that knowledge may become outdated in a number of years, and technology is becoming better in enabling an individual to acquire knowledge.
Knowledge without an attitude and aptitude for lifelong learning is not of much use. Students need to have the mindset that learning is indeed a lifelong process and that one needs to continue to acquiring knowledge throughout life. This would mean that getting to the end of every stage in one’s education process is not a point of arrival but a starting point for the next. The next stage does not necessarily have to be formal education as informal and non-formal education have now started to be recognised.
Traditionally, rightly or wrongly, the education system has been accused of living in the proverbial ivory tower, oblivious of three very important forces, which at times may be conflicting and at times may be aligned. One force is the need to attract the right skills to our country which will help to strengthen our economic growth and social wellbeing. The second force is the need to provide businesses with a labour force which has the appropriate technical and soft skills. The third force is the aspirations of the students and society at large.
I cannot say whether this opinion is valid and relevant today. However I do strongly believe that education professionals (and I use that term very broadly and is not limited to educators) are trying very hard to reconcile these forces.
As if this is not enough, we need to contend with two other elements which should have an impact on our education system. The first is our demographics. We have an ageing Maltese population, and in a few years it is likely to start decreasing in size. The second is the need to change our economic model over the coming years, which will involve moving up the value chain. Taking these situations into account, what are the skills which Maltese students should have?
At the start of a new academic year, we need to remember that not only students need to go through a process of change but also the education system itself.
Lawrence Zammit – Director