The President of Malta

Speech by HE George Vella, President of Malta at the Symposium Early Leaving from Education and Training

Distinguished speakers Ladies and Gentlemen

It is indeed a great pleasure to be with you today to discuss this very important and central topic, education and the unfortunate persistent issue of early school leavers. On this note, I wish to congratulate the Ministry for Education and the Directorate for Research, Lifelong Learning and Employability for organising this symposium and highlighting the centrality of discussing this worrying reality and ultimately propose ways how to effectively address the issue. Furthermore, this 3-day symposium is an excellent opportunity to bring together local and foreign experts in the field of education and early schooling and together share experiences and expertise how to best reduce the numbers of early school leavers and ensure that education is a meaningful journey for all students.

Many might think that a country which is amongst the most successful within its region and which aspires to become an innovative hub for the Mediterranean no longer faces hiccups when it comes to school or training years. Furthermore, the technological advancements of the past 20 years and the digitalization of our lives, might give out the impression that our young people’s attitudes towards education and training is moving hand in hand with these developments. Although this might be the case for a relatively good portion of the young population, others continue to slip away from formal channels of education and training, and end up ostracised not only from their immediate peer group, but also later by employers when seeking employment.

The report by the Ministry for Education and Employment, which will be published and presented later on this week, highlights that the identification of students at risk of Early School Leaving is one of the top youth priorities for Malta. The report highlights that a number of issues seem to hinder addressing early school leaving, particularly: lack of free childcare access for children with parents out of employment, language difficulties when it comes to SEC

papers, lack of whole school approaches targeting reading time and improved levels of student and parent engagement. Without going into the merit of every issue, I wish to speak about one of these issues, which I believe will also be the fulcrum of your discussions today; reading time.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I mentioned earlier, the digitalization of our lives brought great changes to the way we interact with each other, but also the ways we apprehend new knowledge and learn new skills. Many will agree that the children of today are learning how to use their parents’ smart mobile- phones, practically before they actually learn to speak, let alone read! This symbiotic relationship between technology and learning brought substantial benefits as it surely facilitated learning and created a more open and innovative approach to education. Nonetheless, technology can also negatively impinge on the basic skills and competences of the individual, such as reading and writing.

The culture of story-reading, and telling, is slowly being replaced with visual images and interactive screens. We are not realising that these prefabricated images leave little space for the imagination and creative thinking. The recent efforts by the Ministry to introduce Reading Ambassadors and promote collective story and reading sessions are an important effort to establish a reading culture from a young age.

Learning how to read and cultivating a love for books should be every young person’s first steps into the world. As once said by the French poet and novelist, Victor Hugo, “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”. I add that to learn and appreciate reading, unlocks new avenues of knowledge, and ignite in one’s minds an urge to learn from past realities, discover novel things and be cognitively geared for an innovative future.

Reading is the key to knowledge – whether from books, computer screens or any other gadget. It is a mental exercise that translates what is seen as text into ideas, messages and notions, that the brain processes and accumulates by time to store in the mind as knowledge.

To conclude, I hope that in the next few days you will find means how together, as educators and citizens of Malta, we can rekindle a love and passion for the written word and instil in our young people a better understanding of the link between knowledge, competences and opportunities.

As the famous Latin phrase by Rene Descartes goes, ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’, we are because we think. Let us all be inspired by this motto in our daily endeavours.

Thank you

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