“It is shameful that we are at the bottom of the list”

Malta Chamber President speaks to Newsbook.com.mt about the “Huge and unquantifiable damage” caused by good governance deficit and abysmal performance in research and innovation

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Malta’s educational system is not geared for the future. Malta Chamber President Perit David Xuereb told Newsbook.com.mt that the country’s educational system is sadly lacking in forecasting the future. “If there was one common factor that worried all of the contributors to this document, it is exactly this,” said Perit Xuereb. The issue of education and the preparedness of students for the challenges of the workplace was a key element in the compilation of the document ‘An economic vision for Malta 2020-2025’.

Quality and productivity start at school

The MC document places great stress on the need to improve productivity and quality. To be able to do this, the current and seemingly endemic skills mismatch hurdle needs to be overcome. F. Schembri, Chairman of MCAST, in 2019 noted that “It is estimated that 65 per cent of children entering primary education today will ultimately work in new types of jobs and functions that currently do not exist”. Since this is the case, industry and education today must look into their respective crystal-balls and project what the workplace will be like in 16 years’ time. In 2012, in the presentation of the National Minimum Curriculum, the ministry for Education had noted that “Disconnects exist between the curriculum and secondary and higher education because the curriculum of the latter is not student-centric.” The MC document expressed the concern that certain education paths were being left out on a limb since they were perceived as ‘failure options’.

Education with an eye on the future

“The Chamber fears that the image of VET [Ed. Note Vocational and Education training] in the Maltese polity – unlike that of Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, the US, or Austria – is that of a ‘failure’ pathway for those persons who do not obtain the qualifications needed to continue their studies at a university level” noted the visionary document. “In a globalised economy where the industry in which our youngsters in our schools will be working in, in the future does not exist, the need to adapt our curriculum and our educational structures to provide new skills for our youngsters is very important,” said Perit Xuereb. Singapore, he added was a shining example where the skills of creativity, digital technology and quantum physics are areas which are considered as seminal to the development of young minds. This he said would then prepare the youngsters for channelling into specific areas at MCAST or University.

Falling behind in research and innovation

Another area in which Malta needs to pull up its sock is that of research and innovation. The EU has, in the recently approved budget, dedicated an unprecedented part of the budget to the areas of research and innovation. Yet Malta, said Perit Xuereb, lags woefully behind. “We are absolutely not geared for the take-up”, asserted the MC President.

“This is an area of weakness. I think our country must recognise that it needs to be doing something about it. I think that the business community needs to warm up to the need to invest in research and innovation, certainly more than it is right now. Certainly, as a nation, we need to put our money where our mouth is. If the future of our industry, the future of our growth is going to be in how many intellectual properties we were able to develop…then Malta should not be at the bottom of the list of the take up of these funds,” said Perit Xuereb. He added that the future world is one where countries who prosper are those who create not those who produce and Malta must if it is to survive, position itself correctly.

“We are at the bottom of that list. It is shameful,” complained the President of Malta’s foremost industry champion organisation. He added that this document is meant to spur on the government to prioritise this area ‘seriously, tangibly and aggressively’ so that the country’s top talent is engaged in developing projects in Malta.

Good Governance: A opportunity to get it right.

The Latin phrase ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ can, one observes, be applied also on a national level. For the second time in a month and in two high-level documents, the Malta Chamber saw it fit to bring up the issue of governance to tally with economic growth. The MC president described the recent political crisis which effectively saw the ousting of an extremely popular Prime Minister as a “grey if not black” time in Malta’s political milieu. Indeed the document does not mince its words: “The events that unfolded ever since the mishandling of the Panama Papers revelations in 2016 and culminating in the outcome of investigations of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder have all but ruined Malta’s brand and reputation on the global scale. Through its members and interactions with foreign business organisations, the Chamber has clearer visibility than most of the huge unquantifiable damage incurred”.

The document added that the three pillars of good governance: accountability, transparency and the rule of law need to be strengthened as a matter of priority. “It is useless talking about an economic vision at this point in time unless one realises that the governance structures in the country need to be at the top level,” said Perit Xuereb. “We are eager, we are anxious, we are impatient to see all of our recommendations in place to ensure that we have the right foundations to see the next steps in our economic vision seeing the light of day” concluded Perit Xuereb.