The fact that the government has invested a lot in education and still has poor results in post-secondary school-leavers numbers and science teaching is very worrying; and it was an eye-opener hearing Dr. Joseph Muscat single out vocational institutions such as ITS and MCAST and promising to provide the best education at higher secondary institutions.
The main problem as usual is a lack of logical planning based on a holistic charting of education, both academic and vocational, science teaching and the provision of green jobs to offer new employment opportunities.
If we look closely at each of these vital cogs, we quickly realise that the University of Malta that takes care of academic instruction has never really branched into the vocational aspect of education. Some may argue that it is not the University’s role to do so, but the University is funded by the Government and the latter has repeatedly promised that all education institutions must back its plans to improve and place vocational training on a firmer footing, and liaise with industry to highlight the most needed jobs.
When MCAST opened in 2001, it started on the wrong foot. It was supposedly aimed to attract all the experienced teachers who had been made redundant by the closure of Trade Schools. Many of these teachers had ten to twenty years of teaching vocational subjects under their belt and yet, MCAST offered them poor conditions and salaries to the extent that many preferred to remain with the education department and ended up doing electrician and plumbing work in schools. Instead, MCAST employed a lot of wet-behind-the-ears graduates who had just finished their university courses and barely had any work experience.
MCAST should be providing a stream of professionally trained personnel, particularly in ICT and Green Jobs. Unfortunately, many ICT graduates are have ended up working as simple technicians as the thousands of jobs promised by Smart City have not materialised, while many agribusiness graduates have not been able to find jobs in the Green Job sector because these are practically non-existent. How can a specially trained engineer find work in the alternative energy sector if only four companies sell PV cells and the wind-energy sector has stalled?
A look at the other vocational institution that focuses on tourism shows that it has been an abject failure. It has opened its doors to very low academic achievers so that entry numbers are inflated, and instead of raising the academic level, it has been decreased it drastically. This is not the way to go. Such institutes should help increase the academic level of its students and not decrease the level to the extent that there are many Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) certificate students who have no qualifications whatsoever. ITS was not set up as a remedial school, but as a specialised institution in a very important industry. But how can it be such if it insists on focusing on certificates and foundation courses that will produce only very low-end qualifications?
If MCAST is still far from fulfilling the promise of being a centre of Green Job production; ITS has never even thought about entering this important sector. Tourism lends itself well to Green Jobs, particularly in the area of tourism sustainability and alternative tourism. Such jobs should also have an important place in the government’s Sustainable Development plans, the new Tourism Policy and the Vision 2015 policy document, but although such jobs have been mentioned frequently little has been done to produce them due to the short-sightedness of government and the people involved in vocational institutions.
Science teaching has been in a rut for the last 25 years. Although the new Educational Framework promises to redress the imbalance against science teaching that has been plaguing primary school teaching for over 30 years and improve science teaching at a secondary level, the changes haven’t even been implemented and so will take years to have an effect on the psyches of the children and eventually the market. Science teaching is necessary because a lot of Green Jobs are based on alternative energy, waste, energy and water management, eco-tourism and many more that are firmly grounded in science.
There is also the perennial problem of students who are totally uninterested in academic subjects and just want vocational training. These students used to go to Trade Schools that were closed when MCAST opened its doors. Unfortunately, many students who are not academically inclined are dropping out of MCAST and ITS courses, and end up without any form of training whatsoever. Government is satisfied that it has postponed school leaving by two years - from 17 to 19 year olds as the statistics look better. But instead of looking only at numbers we need to look at outcomes.
Should we be satisfied with having so many thousands of young people come out of education without the relevant skills and aptitudes needed in a modern society and economy?
This is what the Labour leader is promising. Dr. Muscat explained how school-leavers who are unable to find a job within six months of ending obligatory education will be provided with training based on employment and abilities. This can be an intermediate course that provides training to school-leavers who stop attending school after they reach the age of 16 years.
Such a course will be effective because it targets exactly those young people who come out of school without the necessary skills to succeed later on in life.