Larger numbers of young Maltese aged 23 and over are seeking work opportunities in Europe. The number is growing. Ten years of European Union membership has opened the doors for travel, studying and settling in other European countries. The search for opportunities abroad is not motivated by money, or the fact that job vacancies are not available on the island. Indeed, in both cases, jobs here are available and one can earn relatively more than abroad. It goes beyond the money motive – it has more to do with an escape from a provincial, inward looking culture in search for anonymity and an urbane existence which is non-intrusive and not suppressive. Putting aside Malta’s sunshine and blue seas, and the relaxed quality of life is a high cost to pay for personal development, fulfilment and freedom.
This is a new wave of Maltese migration, following the last blue-collar movement of the late seventies and early eighties which was a self-imposed exile of mostly medical doctors, academics and bankers to Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. People who were unable to cope with the repressive culture of the Socialist government of the time. Only a few of these have returned. Most of these have achieved social recognition through their achievements in medicine, finance and business in the host countries.
Youth today move on to other European countries to pursue their post-graduate studies and they are attracted by the lifestyle of urban life with its opportunities for arts, music and performance appreciation, besides scope for scientific and technological research, and chances to act on one’s entrepreneurial flair. The reason why Malta provides only limited opportunities for this lies in the fact that it is (and is considered to be) in the periphery of Europe, and no bold policy and action has been made to design and execute a strategy that will get it in the centre of European social life.
The answer to this is education. Not the education that we are used to – a method of instruction, a race for certificates, and a search for the degrees that will yield the highest return. I have always been against manpower planning and pseudo-scientific matching of job seekers with vacancies. The education I am referring to is education for life. The list can be longer, but let me just mention a few themes that come to mind. Civic education, focusing on courtesy, behaviour, tolerance, principle, open mindedness, and the search for perfection. An appreciation of the Arts, paintings, theatre, music, dance.
Persuading young people to start off with a first degree in the humanities, philosophy, anthropology, languages and literature if they are decided on a career in medicine, engineering or finance. Likewise, young people interested in the humanities, can start off with a solid grounding in the sciences, physics, chemistry and mathematics. Education is considered beyond a means to an end, but an end in itself to create a better society.
It is so necessary that we regain self-consciousness as Maltese, and to construct with sincerity a “balance sheet” of our social assets and liabilities. Education, the media and the way we do politics needs very careful analysis. We need to shed our inferiority complex in thinking that talent is only available abroad, when we have the prospect of it to be here next to us. It will go on leaving our shores if we do not nurture or nourish it.
Joseph FX Zahra