KSU’s list of recommendations for the latest Education Act Review, published in February, is a distasteful mix of arbitrary flamboyance and bad grammar. In other words, it is complete rubbish. First of all, while their outlined goal for this report is to suggest educational improvements with special regards to the University of Malta (UoM), every suggestion either does not apply to the UoM or is already being implemented within it.
Students’ Rights and Student Involvement
The first issue tackled by KSU concerns the high level of apathy amongst UoM students. By ‘apathy’, we assume that they are at least partially referring to the annually low turnout of students who take a few minutes out of their time every year to vote for one of two parties that are so similar to each other that you may as well toss a coin to decide which one to back. They certainly cannot be referring to a lack of student involvement in issues that directly concern them and if they are, then they can be accused of hypocrisy. Apart from a few student representatives, KSU did not publicly ask any non-KSU students for feedback on this list of recommendations prior to its submission to the Ministry of Education and Employment (MEE). How can they speak of concern for the level of student apathy at UoM when they themselves do not let students in on decisions as important as these?
The solution proposed by KSU to counter such apathy is to tackle it ‘at its roots; early education’, through the implementation of student councils across primary and secondary schools which they believe will ‘instill further awareness of active citizenship at a relatively early age’. The reason such a proposal could not possibly work is that it is heavily grounded in a fallacy, namely that student apathy is a result of something wrong with the student.
When one looks into the structure of the education system, it becomes clear that student apathy is an inevitable side product of it. Modern education is based off a style of learning where knowledge flows from the textbook into the student’s brain before re-surfacing on that student’s exam paper. This process gives students the message that the single most important aspect of education is the final mark at the end of the year.
Along the way, students are not encouraged to be active participants in their own education. Yes, teachers often speak about ‘good participation’ but this is simply taken to mean that students should raise their hands to ask and answer questions about the syllabus. They have no right to question the structure of the syllabus itself, nor to criticize the content of what they are learning. Even subjects like art that are supposed to foster creativity are bogged down with tedious lessons about still-life and art appreciation. Do KSU really believe that introducing student councils will manage to condition students towards active citizenship? The real question here is how students are expected to be active participants in a system that rewards diligent passivity. For KSU to then go and blame students for their own apathy seems unfair to say the least.
KSU’s second proposal is that students should be ‘made aware that excelling in academia does not make you automatically appealing for employment’ and that employers also seek out non-academic skills from potential employees. Since such ‘skills’ are not defined further, we will hypothesize that KSU are referring to such soft skills as leadership, an ability to think critically, to communicate effectively, and to work productively as part of a team. Their proposed solution involves an unspecified form of collaboration with employment organizations to render the quest for a part-time job easier for University students.
If the problem is that not enough University students possess the necessary soft skills to find themselves a job, how will an increased awareness among students on the possibility of part-time jobs solve anything? By making it more likely that they will find an employer who is lax with regards to their lack of non-academic skills? Surely it is a far better idea to properly teach such soft skills to students while they are still at primary and secondary school…
Reduction of Early School Leavers- A cooperation between stakeholders
With regards to the reduction of early school-leavers, KSU has made full use of bombastic buzzwords so as to cloak its sheer lack of substance. It speaks about ‘education entities and relevant stakeholders’ without explaining in any way what these entities and who these stakeholders are. They state a need for ‘an attentive mechanism which gauges the abilities of students’ and, later on, for ‘an outreach mechanism, in different secondary institutions’ while leaving the exact statuses of said mechanisms shrouded in mystery.
They do however mention the lack of awareness among students of the possibilities of further educational options as a possible cause for the high level of early school-leavers in Malta. That is a very base postulation. We are quite sure that a large percentage of the early school drop-outs are aware of the existence of tertiary levels of education. The absence from KSU’s report of any mention to the relevance of those students’ situations at home is quite surprising…
KSU also suggests a general shift of education towards newer technological forms of teaching. Since Maltese schools have clearly already started moving in this direction, this is hardly a radical proposal. Also, its outline for this shift is a predictably vague one that does not provide any further details other than the implementation of technology such as the Virtual Learning Environment across ‘various stages of education’.
Reduction of bureaucracy and inefficiency
There is not much to say about this particular paragraph in KSU’s report, simply because it does not, strictly speaking, say anything. True, it does suggest the ‘implementation of a centralised system to deal with most of the administrative processes in the education sector’. However, it does not expand on this statement, let alone provide a sketch as to what they mean by a ‘centralised system’ or, heaven forbid, how they plan to introduce it.
The Higher Education System
Finally, KSU speaks about the need to keep the UoM in constant ‘line with international and EU standards’. In this case, we are not criticizing them for being wrong but for preaching to the converted. The UoM is already an internationally recognized institution and in frequent contact with other foreign universities. Do KSU mention what standards they are referring to? Of course not. I suppose they can be credited for consistency in their ambiguity…
As a final point, KSU also requests a seat and vote on the University Senate as this vote ‘will signify that University recognizes KSU as the official student council and official spokesperson to the student body.’ If this is a deliberate ‘mistake’, then full marks to KSU for their equivocation. If not, then KSU should speak ‘for’ rather than ‘to’ the student body. Ironically, this particular grammatical mistake adequately depicts the current state of affairs between KSU and students on campus.
We look forward to reading KSU’s response.