Saturday, September 17, 2016, The Times of Malta
Education for life
Is the education system churning out the skills we need now and, more so, in the future?
The human skill we need now and, more so, in the future is the skill of collaboration. This encompasses the ability to empathise, to communicate one´s thoughts and ideas, to analyse and understand information, to apply information gathered in different contexts, to think critically, to be creative and find solutions, to appreciate cultural and creative works, to understand that society includes different personal realities but that we are Maltese and, consequently, have an identity.
This tall order represents aspects of intelligence, not least of emotional intelligence which our education system often tends to push aside and prefers to focus on information intelligence (how many topics you know). The latter is good but alone it will not lead to civic and environmental engagement. Information intelligence needs to be complimented with a series of other abilities.
But we cannot expect all this to be done by our educators alone nor even within a rigid teaching and learning environment. At this point, therefore, it is important that I state what should be obvious but may not necessarily be so.
Our education system often tends to push aside emotional intelligence and prefers to focus on information intelligence
Firstly, education is for everyone. For example, as much as lack of literacy (reading, writing, numeracy and digital literacy) is a concern in children and youths, it is also a concern for the older generations.
Secondly, that pockets in our society have not gained the required skills for today or for the future is not because our educators have failed.
The ´education system´ is not just about compulsory and higher and further education. Neither is it about the learning experience of only children and youths. Our system tends to forget about lifelong learning processes.
Very often, the skills or abilities we need for civic and environmental engagement cannot be obtained by sitting at a desk but by being exposed to different learning experiences and environments. We need to promote collaborative learning communities where we focus not only on ´what will I achieve´ but also on ´how will we achieve more together´.
Knowledge of a language is the basic tool for communication and there are several opportunities within our education system where this knowledge can be obtained from. However civic and environmental engagement requires the ability to formulate thoughts and communicate these to others. Consequently, our education system also needs to progress into truly recognising the importance of the ability to understand different perspectives, which represent different backgrounds and life experiences.
This is not necessary only because of migration but it is even more necessary for us to understand what being Maltese is and what being European and global means and, consequently, shed our insularity.
A 21st century educational system needs to encompass an intermeshing of the local, the European and the global. It needs structures and processes that facilitate teaching and learning environments that enable this.
The technical skill we need most now and more so in the future is eskills and digital fluency. I do not mean merely being able to use software but, more so, that we start understanding the process and be able to create the software or digital process ourselves. We cannot continue to live the present merely by being digital or online without even understanding the process and we certainly cannot go to the future without knowing how to be actors (and not merely consumers or end users) in the digital environment.
In all this we need to be wary of a system that seeks to ´churn out´ skills as the skills we need cannot be force-fed to learners. They imply a creative and differentiated educational environment that fosters active learning, from the first years of life onwards. They also imply a system that nourishes the concept of education as being inclusive of skills for employment but also of knowing how to live, interact within society and adapt to life situations.
Therese Comodini Cachia is Shadow Minister for Education and Employment.