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Tano Bugeja, presently Head of Secondary School and former Director Learning and Assessment Programmes at the Ministry of Education, explains how education can equip students with the employability skills needed to thrive beyond their school years.

In today’s ever-changing world, ensuring students are well-prepared for the world of work is a more complex task than ever, and simply furnishing young people with examination certificates before sending them out into the world is no longer enough.

According to Tano Bugeja, former Director of Learning and Assessment Programmes at the Ministry of Education, while knowledge-based certificates are still important, a recent survey of Maltese employers found that what they value most highly is actually so-called soft skills: oral communication, problem-solving, planning and organisation skills and basic IT.

“Employability skills today are those which support adapting to job mobility, learning new technologies, working in teams, giving presentations, dealing with difficult customers, communicating with foreign investors and clients, and using digital tools to control machines and to communicate with customers,” Bugeja explains. “These employability skills can be learned at school if the education experience equips students with the correct attributes.”

Similarly, social skills such as communication and collaboration, which are often prevalent among athletes, are highly sought after by prospective employers, Bugeja says. The shift towards continuous assessment in schools has allowed these traits to be better recognised, providing “an opportunity for creativity, collaboration, adaptability and other desired outcomes”.

So how can schools better prepare students for the needs of the modern workforce? Bugeja points to the National Curriculum Framework for All (NCF) and Learning Outcomes Framework, published in 2012 and 2015: the first setting lifelong learning, responsible citizenship and employability as the three main goals of compulsory education, the second identifying the “21st century skills” learners need to achieve them.

“These skills include creativity and innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration, and should be embedded in the learning experiences we offer, together with the values of inclusion, fairness, respect, and social justice” Bugeja says.

Part of this is using teaching techniques that encourage critical thinking in students. “When students are assigned to work on projects which are based upon real problems and challenges, and encouraged to work in groups, they learn to collaborate, think logically, use scientific principles, research and challenge their results and, finally, present their findings,” Bugeja explains. “The classroom environment should promote creativity and innovation among both learners and the educators.”

While most educators spend a lot of time and energy planning and delivering the best teaching and learning practices for their students, Bugeja says there are always ways the learning environment can be further improved. He highlights the importance of professional development, to allow educators to discover better and more inclusive teaching practices.

The key, he says, is for the focus to remain on the student and their needs, ensuring that teaching and learning can be innovative at every instance, even when new techniques are learned and adopted.

One of the main factors driving that innovation today is the digital transformation: both as it affects the use of digital tools in the learning process, and in the new skills, knowledge and attitude learners must master to thrive in the workforce.

An effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bugeja says, was the rapid uptake of digital technology for communication between educators and students, allowing them to experience new digital tools and improve their skills over a short period of time.

At the same time, an increased focus on digital literacy education in the curriculum is aiming to provide learners with knowledge of the principles underpinning new technologies and a critical understanding of the implications of digital technology for individuals and societies.

“Technology brings with it a revolution in thought and action,” Bugeja says. “ What is required is not simply the ability to learn to use new digital technology, but also to think and act in terms of this new technology.  This is the challenge that educators and students, employers and employees face when communicating, operating and producing.”

 

The Mediterranean College of Sport is set to be one of the most pioneering educational and sporting facilities in the Maltese islands, aiming to develop future athletes of international calibre. The co-educational college is set to open its doors to students in October 2024 and will be housed adjacent to St Aloysius College in Birkirkara. For further information please send an email to cbonnici@mcs.edu.mt.