Who would argue against lifting people out of poverty? Today, education transcends curriculum programmes. It provides opportunities for social mobility as individuals are rewarded according to their merit.Interventions in the realms of education may play a significant role in shaping key performance indicators for social outcomes. This short contribution suggests that education may create a fair, just and equitable society for all. Thus, the notion of social cohesion and its constituent elements; social inclusion, social capital and social mobility are some of the concepts which are increasingly being addressed by stakeholders in education.
With better education there may be implications for economic growth, job creation and competitiveness (OECD, 2009). The Ministry of Education and Employment together with the University of Malta and other vocational institutions have always strived in their endeavours to address skill gaps (and mismatches) in the labour market. A lot of discourse has been made about how Malta’s productivity and competitiveness may be improved through active labour market policies and initiatives. For instance, more participation of women in the job market, flexible working arrangements, the provision and affordability of child-care facilities as well as out-of-school centres may possibly help to bring more social cohesion and a better living for all members of society. In addition, lifelong learning and employment opportunities are also vital elements of any social cohesion agenda. Through education and training, individuals will acquire knowledge and cultivate skills and competences which are relevant to their employers. Consequently, educational outcomes will influence social inclusion, social mobility and social capital as illustrated hereunder in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The Components of Social Cohesion (OECD, 2011)
The schooling experience itself impacts social cohesion as it shapes and transmits common values that underpin social capital and inclusion. Education has the potential to bring social cohesion through civic and societal engagement. To my mind, how children are schooled may impact on their sense of belonging to a society. It is important to realise that certain instruments that reduce opportunity costs of continued education can possibly improve student attainment levels. Young adolescents who leave education and training prematurely will lack the necessary skills and qualifications which are essential for their employment prospects. It may appear that, Malta is responding to the contentious issue of early school leaving (ESL) through the provision of ongoing training schemes as well as employer incentives. The Employment and Training Corporation is also using the European Union’s Training Aid Framework (TAF) which is co-funded through the European Social Fund to strengthen the employability prospects of the Maltese work force. In a nutshell, this programme sponsors students, employees and unemployed individuals to train themselves in areas which are required by the labour market. The Ministry of Education and Employment has always been committed to increase the number of students in higher education. Interestingly, Malta’s National Reform Programme under the Europe 2020 Strategy has yielded some preventative measures against ESL, including; the implementation of the “National Curriculum Framework”; the provision of more opportunities for vocational education and training (VET) in compulsory education; the strengthening of the existent “Validation of Informal” and “Non-formal Learning” as well as the development of new forms of teaching and learning, such as “e-Learning”. This programme posits that intervention measures include; a review of extant measures with a focus on school, parent, teacher collaboration, the development of a multi-stakeholder approach to address the needs of particular groups of students at risk of ESL and the further strengthening of guidance throughout compulsory education. As a result, this reform programme has set clear and measurable targets in this regard, as it emphasised the importance of effective delivery and visible results. Apparently, stakeholders in education are committed to taking steps to improve the provision of training, skills and qualifications. Year after year, the smallest EU state is raising the quality of its education and training systems to encourage a greater participation of its workforce in the labour market.
Malta has recognised the importance of reducing its number of unqualified school leavers. Lifelong learning, ongoing training opportunities and continuous professional development can offer valuable support to more vulnerable people. Measures including; better access to childcare, more flexible working schemes and employer incentives are surely helping individuals, particularly women to return to work. This short contribution suggests that the pursuit towards continuous improvement in educational scale and social progress can create a virtuous cycle of productivity outcomes and economic growth.