Mickey Malta

Notes from the zone where 'normal' things don't happen very often

Posts Tagged ‘Education

May Day sermon on il-haddiem

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Class wars are as useless as the Spice Girls

Class wars are as useless as the Spice Girls

As I drive Melita to her (private) school every day, we are greeted by a scribbling on a wall a few metres away. Someone with a huge chip on his/her shoulder scribbled ‘tfal tas-sinjur, gharaq fqir’ which roughly implies that the children of rich people have no clue about striving to achieve what they want; that everything is made easy for them. Luckily, this graffiti is fading rapidly now.

This sort of proletariat vs bourgeois dialectic is as misguided, outdated and pathetic as any other form of sulking and bitching at other socio economic groups. I am by nature not a huge fan of us and them attitudes. Maybe that’s why Marxism and its theories of class conflict never tickled my interest.

Whoever scribbled this statement on the wall is misguided by his/her envy. What would instigate someone get a spray can, drive to the middle of nowhere and write an obnoxious statement on a wall to send a message to parents driving their kids to school? I think that the answer is the “iss hej, dawk jibghatu t-tfal skola privata ghax ghandhom il-flus, u jien ma nistax! Tac-cajt. Haqq @||@!!!!!” kind of thinking.  Otherwise, that person wouldn’t have bothered to go through all the hassle. It must be the sense of deprivation, the feeling that others have an opportunity that he/she doesn’t have to have created a need to send such a message. On a human level, it is kind of understandable, but on a practical level, this reasoning is completely wrong, and I’ll explain why.

I do not come from a rich family; and neither does Minnie. Our own family cannot be classified as rich, but because I chose to work during my studies (instead of sitting comfortably in the sun waiting for the stipend to be deposited into my bank account), I managed to build a strong CV despite my young age. So far, this made it easier for me to have good jobs with a decent income. My choices – more precisely my sweat – made it possible for me to climb the career ladder, fast.

Admittedly, I also happen to be lucky to come from a family that invested in my upbringing. I owe everything I have, and everything I achieved to my parents who had decided to invest in their kids’ education instead of a beautiful home or a yearly holiday abroad. Although education and schooling themselves play an important role in my formation, it is my parents’ decisions that taught me to prioritise my choices over others.

Don’t be fooled. I am not one to believe that this prioritisation is exclusive to my family. There are other parents who send their children to private schools who share a similar story. Whenever there’s a family event one can see all sorts of different cars parked outside the school: from Fiat Punto to Mercedes, from BMW to Toyota Vitz. I also happen to know a number of parents who send their kids to private schools, and I can vouch for the mix in socio-economic groups in these schools. So, one may ask, how do they afford to send their children to private independent schools? The answer generally lies in the families’ priorities. When we worked out the cost for Melita’s first three years of schooling, it amounted to the same cost of two cigarette packets per day. Hence, a low(er) income family where both parents smoke a pack a day could technically afford to send their child to a private school, at least for the first three years.

If decide to spend money on fags rather than their kid’s education, then there is no reason to feel deprived or disadvantaged. Like our parents before us, Minnie and I decided to send Melita to a private school instead of taking a yearly holiday abroad. It is once again a matter of choices, and we do not envy the families who can afford to send their kids to a private school and take vacations abroad every so often. Good luck to them.

We know other families who seek additional income through part-time jobs (in some cases, the mothers decided to take a full time job instead of staying at home) to fund their child’s schooling. On the other hand, I came across a number of low income earners (through my career) who choose to spend money on their car, jewellery, or their daily visits to the local band/political club. One particular former colleague of mine used to spend over Lm1,000 yearly on his pigeon racing hobby. I don’t know whether he still does it as I haven’t seen him for a while. At that time, he was an average income earner with a gross income of about around Lm60 per week. He had a stay-at-home- wife and two kids who went to the local state school. Once again, here’s another case of someone who chooses to spend money on his hobbies instead of kids’ education or family holiday, or a beautiful home. One is not necessarily better on the other; but the reason why I cite this particular example is that this person was quite bitter about the upper classes. For the record, he was a staunch Mintoffian – maybe that explains his class hatred.

By making these comparisons, I do not want to give the impression that kids who go to private schools are better off than those who go to state or church schools. One may argue that it is better to spend more time with kids rather than working part time jobs to fund their education. I reiterate for the umpteenth time, it’s all a matter of choices.

It’s all about one’s attitude and actions towards a situation that one is unhappy with. This is not necessarily about schools only. The same logic can be applied to anything else like: the choice of clothes, houses, cars, etc . . .

Instead of resenting people who seem to have better opportunities, it would be wise to start off by taking stock about one’s personal choices. Then, it will be the time to map how to reach the desired goal rather than how to bring others ‘down to your level’. If there’s a faster athlete in your race, try to focus on how you can train harder to build a stronger endurance rather than how you’re going to chop his legs off.

Resentment will only make you bitter and pathetic. Hence, my advice is: focus on actions, not feelings.

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Written by mickeymalta

01/05/2009 at 11:15

Posted in Blog Main Page

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Parrots on a string

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I'm an expert in Rock Academics 

Who cares about the world outside? I love my comfort zone

One of the many myths that many Rockers seem to be happy to believe is that we have a high standard of education. This is a generic statement that unfortunately tends to be typical of the average Rocker. Many people tend to use absolute terms in their speech like: everyone, all, nothing and others.

Being the pain in the neck that I am, I vehemently reject this myth. I don’t do this in order to be different. I do so because as I said already in earlier posts, I hate generic statements, and I also hate statements that are not based on concrete data. What is there to show that we have a high level of education?

To check the validity of this myth, one has to start by defining ‘education’. What do we mean by a high standard of education? What does a person need to be considered as educated? If one believes that certificates and qualifications determine the level of one’s education, then it is generally correct to claim that there is a high standard of education here. However, if one doesn’t agree that certificates are the only measure, then the myth needs to be validated.

I don’t think that certificates should be the one and only benchmark against which the standard of education is measured. In fact, I am not even going to comment about the fact that we have an alarmingly high rate of illteracy when compared to other EU countries; as this has more to do with the academic system per se rather than what society percieves education to be. Hence, it’s a different subject altogether.

In my opinion, an educated person is a well mannered individual who can hold an interesting conversation about a number of issues and topics, and this is mainly because this person has sound general knowledge. I’ve seen rude professionals (like lawyers and doctors – just take a look at Parliament and you’ll get the drift), and courteous well-manned people who don’t hold any professional status. Manners have practically nothing to do with formal education, but they are completely dependent on one’s upbringing.

I must confess that when I was young, I too used to believe in the afore-mentioned myth, but as I grew up, I realised that this is completely unfounded. The more I interact with people of different nationalities, the more I realise how most parents’ obsession with certificates is actually stifling their children’s education. In reality we, unsurprisingly, have two extremes here: on one hand there are people who are obsessed with certificates, and a whole bunch of unqualified experts on the other. The unqualified experts are those people who think they are experts in a particular topic (although sometimes they’re not even passionate about it, but they’re just interested in the money it can make) and start talking about the subject matter with a certain authority that they actually convince people that they mean business. Yet, they do so despite lack of professional qualifications in the subject matter.

The weight watching business is a case in point. How many of the local weight watching gurus are actually qualified to dispense advice and guide people towards a healthy balance between dieting and damage prevention? One does not become an expert just by reading books and attending brief courses. It takes much more than that, and yet we have a number of people dispensing advice on healthy lifestyles and weight loss in a number of gyms and on most, if not all, of the TV and radio stations.

On the other extreme, there are people who get so immersed in their studies, that they lose focus on life. They seem to forget that there’s a world outside their bubble, and they also tend to fail to understand why other people are not interested in their world.

As always, the ideal world lies somewhere in between these two extremes. I believe that a solid theoretical / academic knowledge is vital for someone who wants to have a good foundation to build knowledge upon. However, one needs to complement knowledge with practical insights and critical thinking. This, unfortunately, is lacking in our culture. Children spend most of the time at school, at home, and in church (including catechism classes). These three institutions, bar some homes, do not encourage or even foster critical thinking. On the contrary they instil respect (the official term) towards authority; which practically, in most cases, translates as fear from authority.

For these last few years, I have been working and interacting with people who weren’t born and raised here, and I realised how different their approach and level of general knowledge is. In most cases, these people could hold a conversation about a huge variety of topics like current affairs; European history; geography; travel; culture and others. Another major difference I noticed is that when I’m having a conversation with a Rocker about a book or a documentary, for example, the conversation usually steers into agreement / disagreement with the message conveyed. Discussing the same issue with people who weren’t born and raised here is usually a completely different experience. They tend to be more analytical about specific points and argue on several points independently rather than treating the whole book or documentary as one single package like the Rockers do.

This kind of broad analytical thinking, in my opinion, shows a high degree of education; the ability to dissect an issue, rip it apart and analyse every single point thoroughly and independently from the others.

While it is true that schooling here is tough, it does not necessarily mean that it’s the best system in the world. My concern is that our current educational system is not fostering a love and passion for knowledge. I attribute part of the reason why less than 60% don’t even read one book in a whole year to our schooling. Books aren’t generally perceived as a source of knowledge and a means of entertainment; but as a source of pure boredom. Same with poetry and literature. These are rammed down our throats at school. Instead of learning how to appreciate literature, our students learn verses by heart, and then they just regurgitate them like parrots when prompted to do so. Doesn’t this remind you of puppets on strings? It’s a tragic standard of education, if you ask me.

I see an educated person as someone who can see beyond the picture s/he is presented with. Someone who is able to draw a message out of a movie, a play, a book, or a poem. Knowing the works by heart without actually understanding what you’re saying doesn’t mean that you’re intelligent. It only makes you a good parrot. This is pure rote learning at its best.

It’s as absurd as having a 5 year old stating that s/he believes in the virgin Mary while citing the kredu with fervour and pride. In actual fact, that child would (and should) not have a clue about the implications of such a statement.

The kredu example in my opinion personifies the whole issue as it represents the lack of analytical approach, citing words without necessarily understanding the meaning of them, while at the same time, one can look at the child and say: “a five year old talking about virginity. How impressive! How intelligent!”

Written by mickeymalta

17/04/2009 at 18:48

Posted in Blog Main Page

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Bye bye stipends?

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Wil 'the money tree' be finally chopped off?

Will 'the money tree' be finally chopped off?

At long last, the stipend system as we know it may soon be a thing of the past. It may have made sense in the late 1980s when the economic situation was bad (jobs were raffled during coffee mornings), and young people needed some form of incentive to pursue their studies after they finish school.

Twenty years have passed since then, and now the reality is completely different. University population increased from 800 to 12,000. The job market incentivises people of all ages to study and keep themselves abreast with the latest developments. Lifelong learning is now a necessity, not just a choice.

In reality, the stipend system does not influence people’s decisions as to whether they should keep on studying, or seek a job. Ironically, students are worse off – financially – with the stipend system. If they hold a  part time job, they will have more money in their pockets.

As opposed to other educational institutions (not just universities) in many countries, tuition here is free. Furthermore, the vast majority of our students still live with their parents so they don’t need to spend money on rent, and students who come from the sister island usually live in a family-owned apartment. Students living here don’t even need to fork out huge amounts of money on travel. Generally speaking, it looks like many students don’t have a clue of how better off they are than most of their counterparts in most of the other countries around the globe.

The reality is that if the stipend system is abolished, the students will be better off. They can work part time jobs and have more money in their pockets at the end of the month. The government will be able to invest more money in their institution – so they should get a better service. One of the essential benchmarks in ranking standards of educational institutions is research. Do our institutions invest in research? How many times have we heard about important research being carried out by professors and students within our institutions? And what about the books and journals in these institutions’ libraries? Students who try to use library facilities for research can write volumes of books full of interesting anecdotes about libraries in these buildings.

The reason why I am writing about educational institutions and not university in particular is that I’m including the sixth forms, ITS, and MCAST into the equation. The general principles I am writing about apply to all institutions.

Unfortunately, the current system presents a false reality to our students. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Neither does it ‘just show up’ in your bank account. Money has to be earned; and this is not the message that our students are receiving. We have created a generation of people who look down on unskilled work, and unfortunately, unskilled workers. It is unthinkable for many students to work as servers in eateries, or hold part time jobs in a car wash, or a cleaning company – for example. As long as the money is not earned illegally, then there is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s the way I see it. It’s all about having pride in one’s job.

I was recently watching an interview on TV with the guy who, literally, paints the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He was quite upbeat and enthusiastic about his job, and explained how proud he feels when he sees people taking pictures of this world landmark. “They come here to appreciate the beauty of this bridge, and I am the person responsible to make this bridge look awesome” he said. That’s the true meaning of being proud of one’s work.

Back to stipends. From a business perspective, there is also an important factor that cannot be overlooked. We, as tax payers, are ‘investing’ in students’ education. The rationale is that the country will reap the benefits of this investment over a long period of time somewhere in the future. The reality is that a number of people receive a stipend while they’re studying, and then leave the country soon after they graduate. Other students graduate in a particular discipline and then choose a career that has absolutely nothing to do with their studies.

I have been told by a number ITS students who were reading for a diploma in hospitality management that the reason why they went to this institute has nothing to do with a passion for tourism. They wanted a formal qualification in management but for some reason didn’t make it to University. Hence, a diploma that can lead to a university degree seems like an indirect way of getting a degree.

Now I happen to be quite broad-minded when it comes to qualifications. I don’t believe that in order to be a CEO, for example, one needs to hold a MBA or DBA, or have necessarily occupied a commercial role like Director of Finance, for example.

One may be a good candidate for certain roles because the discipline s/he specialised in may help his/her process and strategic thinking – which in a given role may be more important than technical knowledge of that actual role. So, to elaborate on my previous example, an engineer may be a good candidate for a CEO of a company that requires an analytical, disciplined leader who needs to look at structure and steer it in a new direction. An engineering background (preferably complemented with commercial experience), may be more appropriate than a business background for this role.

Having said that, someone who was paid by you and me to study Food & Beverage Operations or Accommodation Operations at ITS, for example, and then joins a TV station as a cameramen is akin to a hotel that spends money on knitting training for its receptionists.

Written by mickeymalta

09/04/2009 at 15:23