1. Key indicators
Figure 1 – Key indicators overview
|Education and training 2020 benchmarks|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||27.5%||16.7%||14.0%||10.2%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 30-34)||21.9%||37.8%||31.1%||40.3%|
|Early childhood education
(from age 4 to starting age of compulsory primary education)
|Proportion of 15 year-olds underachieving in:||Reading||36.3%||35.9%18||19.3%||22.5%18|
|Employment rate of recent graduates by educational attainment (age 20-34 having left education 1-3 years before reference year)||ISCED 3-8 (total)||92.9%||93.1%||78.0%||80.9%|
|Adult participation in learning (age 25-64)||ISCED 0-8 (total)||6.2%||12.0%||7.9%||10.8%b|
|Learning mobility||Degree mobile graduates (ISCED 5-8)||:||9.4%18||:||4.3%18|
|Credit mobile graduates (ISCED 5-8)||:||5.3%18||:||9.1%18|
|Other contextual indicators|
|Education investment||Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP||5.4%||5.2% 18||5.1%||4.6%18|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per student in € PPS||ISCED 1-2||€7 44612||€6 72217||€6 072d, 12||€6 240d, 16|
|ISCED 3-4||€12 61412||€8 35217||:12||€7 757d, 16|
|ISCED 5-8||€32 66912||€14 42317||€9 679d, 12||€9 977d, 16|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||Native-born||26.0%||15.4%||12.6%||8.9%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 30-34)||Native-born||21.9%||32.7%||32.0%||41.3%|
|Employment rate of recent graduates by educational attainment (age 20-34 having left education 1-3 years before reference year)||ISCED 3-4||88.6%||88.8%||72.2%||75.9%|
Source: Eurostat; OECD (PISA); Learning mobility figures are calculated by DG EAC, based on UOE 2018 data. Further information can be found in Annex I and in Volume 1 (ec.europa.eu/education/monitor).
Notes: The 2018 EU average on PISA reading performance does not include ES; b = break in time series; d = definition differs; u = low reliability; : = not available; 12 = 2012, 16 = 2016, 17 = 2017, 18 = 2018.
Figure 2 - Position in relation to strongest and weakest performers
Source: DG EAC, based on data from Eurostat (LFS 2019, UOE 2018) and OECD (PISA 2018).
- Addressing high underachievement and early school leaving by better supporting students’ well-being and learning needs continues to be a priority; however, the COVID-19 crisis has delayed implementation of reforms.
- Strengthening policy evaluation will ensure more effective education policies, including better student learning outcomes.
- Disadvantaged students have been supported during the school closure by providing them with computers, internet connections and additional materials. This may help counterbalance the impact of the crisis.
- Efforts have been made to make vocational education more responsive to technological development. Participation in adult learning among the low-qualified remains low.
3. A focus on digital education
Digital education was set as a policy priority early on, to sustain a strong digital economy. Several national policies and programmes have been put in place to develop digital competences from an early age. In order to ensure a sufficient supply of information and communication technology (ICT) professionals to meet labour market demand, policies are also intended to attract more students to ICT. Nonetheless, in 2019, 67.3% of enterprises that tried to recruit ICT specialists had difficulties finding employees with the right skills (European Commission 2020a). An audit launched by the eSkills Foundation in 2019 will collect further data on mismatches between education and labour market needs. Despite the sustained strong focus on digital education and investment in infrastructure, there is no regular evaluation of the policies being pursued (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice 2019).
Schools and pupils are comparatively well equipped with ICT tools, and additional support was provided to disadvantaged pupils during the COVID-19 crisis. Maltese pupils attend schools which are among the most digitally equipped in the EU, in particular at primary level (82% v 35% at EU level). This is mainly the consequence of the project `One Tablet Per Child’, which provided tablets at primary level with the European Social Fund support. This has also been very effective in enabling the switch to online learning during the COVID-19 outbreak, making the transition smoother for pupils in the last three years of primary. However, according to school principals, there is a large socio-economic gap in access to ICT: a smaller proportion of pupils in disadvantaged schools have digital devices connected to the internet (46% v 82% in advantaged schools) and they have poorer computing capacity (Reimers and Schleicher 2020 and OECD, PISA 2018 database). During the COVID-19 lockdown, free internet and computers have been distributed to disadvantaged children to continue their studies at home. An online platform1 with free educational contents was made available to parents and students in April. Parents could also opt for up to 40 sessions on online learning offered by the Institute for Education, while support for teachers was provided mainly in the form of educational resources, initially through the Ministry’s official website. These two platforms have principally allowed communicating tasks such as homework.
A comparatively high proportion of young people possess above basic digital skills. 74% of those aged 16-19 reported having above basic overall digital skills in 2017 (EU-27: 57%). However, students at secondary level report lower levels of confidence in their digital competences as defined in the DigComp framework2, compared to the EU average. Furthermore, in line with most Member States, more than half of secondary students can be defined as `less digitally active with a rather moderate level of support´, which means they have poor access to digital technologies at home, at school or outside school, engage less frequently in digital activities during lessons or outside school, and evaluate the impact of ICT use during lessons less positively. This is particularly the case at upper secondary level, where ICT is taught as one of the applied subjects following the reform of the secondary school system, and teachers tend to use digital devices less often during lessons than in the other, lower, levels of education (European Commission 2019a).
Supporting teachers is crucial to making investment in ICT beneficial for all. The effectiveness of ICT at school depends on the actual use that teachers make of it and on their ability to integrate it into their teaching practices (Bulman et al. 2016; Comi 2017). There is a need to ensure that teachers have the appropriate competences so that the use of digital devices does not form a distraction for pupils and have a negative impact on their educational outcomes (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice 2019). In Malta, high investment in digital equipment is accompanied by short teacher training courses covering the pedagogical use of ICT in teaching and learning, and there are IT support teachers who assist teachers with technical aspects. This has helped Maltese teachers to gain a high level of confidence in their digital competences compared to the EU average (OECD 2019a). However, according to school principals, teachers tend to be less well prepared and have less access to professional development practices on using digital devices in socio-economically disadvantaged schools than they do in advantaged schools (Reimers and Schleicher 2020)3. Moreover, fewer than one in four students in compulsory education attend schools that have policies and/or actions to assess the outcomes of using ICT for teaching and learning (European Commission 2019a). Coupled with the short duration of teacher training4, this may hold back the introduction of innovative teaching practices that could help improve student performance, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the investment in digitalisation. During the quarantine period, teachers have been encouraged to provide online learning without the obligation of live streaming and asked to cover the most relevant parts of curriculum. In April, guidelines for online learning were published. However, no information on how many teaching hours have taken place is available.
4. Investing in education and training
Public expenditure is above the EU average, demonstrating a strong commitment to education and training. General government expenditure on education, both as a proportion of GDP (5.2% v EU-27 4.6%) and as a proportion of total general government expenditure (14.2% v EU-27 9.9%), was among the highest in the EU in 2018. Smaller average class-sizes and lower student-to-teacher ratios (OECD 2019d) are among the factors that contribute to a high level of investment. While this may allow teachers to focus more on the needs of individual students, evidence of the effect on student performance is mixed and suggests that this allocation of resources should be carefully evaluated against other measures. For instance, investing in more high quality professional development for teachers could help improve student achievements more efficiently and effectively (OECD 2019b).
5. Modernising early childhood and school education
Participation in early childhood education remains around the EU average for children under 3 years of age but it is decreasing for the older age group. The free childcare scheme helped to double the proportion of children below the age of 3 in formal childcare between 2015 and 2019 (38.3%). Participation in early childhood education among 4 year-olds in 2018 remained around the EU average (95.3% v 94.8%), but it continues to decline (-2.7 pps compared with 2016). The implementation of the new curriculum for early years, mainly at pre-school level, continued in 2019/2020, with training provided to kindergarten teachers. The 2019 Education Act raised the minimum entry requirement for staff to bachelor’s degree level. This is a first step towards higher quality in the sector. The National Standards for Child Day Care Facilities (2006) have been revised. A reference group made up of major stakeholders is currently being consulted prior to launching a wider public consultation.
Average levels of basic skills are low and a large percentage of pupils fail to achieve minimum proficiency levels. The latest results of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 show that, in all three subjects tested (reading, mathematics and science), Malta’s mean performance is below the EU average and the proportion of 15 year-olds underachieving in all three domains is among the highest in the EU (22.6% v 13.2%) (Figure 3). In this context, the Council of the European Union adopted a country-specific recommendation for Malta, calling on it to ‘strengthen the quality and inclusiveness of education and skills development’ (Council of the European Union 2020). While the proportion of top performers has decreased since the last round, the proportion of underachieving pupils remains practically unchanged since 2015 and is above the EU average across the entire socio-economic distribution (OECD 2019c). Around 51% of pupils from the bottom socio-economic quartile lack basic skills in reading (EU 36.4%). This is more than twice the rate in the top quartile — even though the rate for the top quartile is also comparatively high (24.3% v 9.5%) (Figure 4).
Figure 3 – Low achievers in all three domains, 2018
Source: OECD (2019), PISA 2018.
Figure 4 – Low achievers in reading by student socio-economic status (ESCS), 2018
Source: OECD (2019c), PISA 2018. Note: the EU average does not include ES results.
Better support for students’ learning needs is key to achieving higher quality. The implementation of the new curricula and the introduction of formative student assessment practices in compulsory education have been postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. These reforms may help achieve better results in the future if matched by effective implementation, evidence-based evaluation and adequate support to teachers and learning-support educators. According to data from the 2018 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), lower secondary teachers report a greater need (compared to the EU average) for professional development in assessment practices (14.9% v EU-22 11%) and in the analysis and use of student results (13.3% v 9.5%). With support from the European Commission’s Structural Reform Support Programme, Malta is working on strengthening external school evaluation (European Commission 2020c). This could further contribute to developing a coherent strategy to improve learning outcomes (Bergbauer et al. 2018). An effective interplay between external and internal evaluation mechanisms would allow schools to adapt to the changing needs of learners (Hanushek et al. 2013).
The COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate educational inequalities and low levels of basic skills if its impact is not fully assessed. The closure of schools in mid-March and the shift to remote learning could have a long-lasting effect on student learning outcomes. Teachers, students and families need to be effectively supported, and adequate compensation measures are necessary to help low-achieving students to catch up in the months ahead. Evidence shows that less time spent in learning can lead to loss of learning and have a negative impact on student outcomes (Lavy 2015). This is particularly true for disadvantaged pupils, who are more likely to be underachievers and to have less access to high quality home support and extracurricular activities. To support students and families during the lockdown, those who are at risk of poverty who usually benefit from free lunches at school received their daily lunch at home, and online services for psychological counselling and for pupils with special educational needs were set up. The government’s task force decided to drop the final assessment for primary and lower secondary schools and to assess upper secondary students on the basis of their mock exams held before the COVID-19 outbreak5, in order to keep a focus on teaching and learning until the end of the school year. While this could be a fair decision under current circumstances, it could also negatively affect students’ motivation and learning if formative assessment practices are not well developed. Moreover, without student assessment results it could be more difficult to make plans for the coming years and to evaluate the impact of distance learning. The Ministry for Education and Employment has established a framework for the re-opening of educational institutions. This has been discussed with the main stakeholders, at all levels, from childcare to tertiary level and including the different unions and associations. It follows the model proposed by the United Nations and has been adapted to suit Maltese needs. For each probable scenario, the framework is looking at five main aspects: health and safety, information, development and training, the need for quality education, the need for education to reach every student, and the necessary financing6. In May, the government also launched an ad-hoc expert group whose remit is to propose ideas for the education system, also in light of COVID-19. National experts were appointed from different economic sectors. A report is due by mid-September.
Pupils attending private schools perform better. PISA 2018 shows that disadvantaged Maltese students, in spite of their background, are more likely to be top performers in reading than their European peers (13.3% v 11% at EU-27 level), suggesting that the Maltese system is to some extent able to compensate for disadvantage. Moreover, PISA 2018 shows that socio-economic background only explains 7.6% of variation in reading performance (EU-27: 14.2%). However, performance remains strongly related to the type of school a pupil attends, with a gap between private and public schools of about 100 PISA points, equivalent to more than two school years (European Commission 2020). This could further exacerbate the differences between pupils from low and high socio-economic backgrounds (Figure 4). PISA 2018 also shows that results of independent and church schools have worsened while performance in public schools has remained stable since the last round7.
Efforts are being made to make the system more inclusive but challenges remain. The proportion of pupils born abroad is 6.6% and increased by 5 pps between 2009 and 2018. To foster their inclusion, induction programmes have been set up for newly arrived pupils who cannot yet speak Maltese or English. This may help to reduce both the average difference in reading performance between foreign pupils who speak English at home and those who do not (a difference in PISA 2018 of 63 score points), and the segregation of migrant students8 (OECD 2019d). Several programmes are already in place to foster inclusion, particularly of children with special educational needs. Public schools are required to implement the 2019 inclusive framework, involving drawing up their own plan following a self-evaluation exercise. The COVID-19 outbreak has caused the suspension of the work on school development plans. The ongoing work on strengthening quality assurance systems is likely to be key to ensuring effective implementation (Bloom et al. 2015), greater consistency with existing measures and favourable conditions for subsequent related actions, for example against bullying.
Improving students’ well-being could contribute to better learning outcomes and to reducing early school leaving. Although it has declined since 2009, early school leaving is still the second highest in the EU (16.7% v 10.2% EU-27 average in 2019) and far from the national Europe 2020 target of 10%. Nevertheless, it has decreased by 0.7 pps in the last year, driven by a decline of around 1 p.p. among girls (14.8% v 18.3% for boys). The introduction of education and careers guidance in the school curriculum from the 2018/2019 school year may further help to prevent students from leaving education early. PISA 2018 also shows that bullying is a major problem in Malta: about 32% of pupils report being bullied at least a few times a month, compared to 22.1% at EU-27 level, with a significantly higher rate among low-achieving students (47.3% v 25.5% for high achieving students). Together with a relatively high proportion of pupils who do not feel they belong at school (36.2%), this further contributes to a low reading performance (-40 PISA points in reading) and may impact on the high school dropout rate. During the lockdown, information has been collected from teachers to better support parents’ and children’s well-being.
Box 1: The Eco-School programme - Promoting sustainable lifestyles in schools
The Eco-School programme is an international programme launched in 1994 by the Foundation for Environmental Education and in place in Malta since 2002. Eco-Schools promotes a whole-school community approach (involving students, teachers and parents) to sustainable development through student-initiated policy and curricular actions that are integrated into the school’s development plan
The National Curriculum Framework includes Education for Sustainable Development as one of the cross curricular themes at primary and secondary level. Catering for 85% of the total student population, Eco-Schools is the major cross-curricular programme re-orienting education to support sustainable development.
6. Modernising vocational education and training
Efforts are underway to address challenges posed by technological developments and to promote excellence in the provision of innovative technical and tertiary vocational education (VET). The proportion of VET learners at upper secondary level enrolled in programmes involving work-based learning rose to 35% in 2018 from 32% a year earlier, continuing the upward trend recorded in the past five years. Following a decline in 2017, enrolments in upper secondary VET increased from 27.1% to 28.5% in 2018. The new secondary school system (European Commission 2019b) will help increase enrolment in vocational and applied paths, by making them more attractive. The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology, MCAST, launched a master’s degree in vocational education applied research to address the challenges posed by Industry 4.0 by shifting from traditional education programmes to innovative practices and blending team delivery, team learning with work experience, team assessment and research. The Institute of Tourism Studies is preparing learners for technological innovation through its Centre for e-Learning Technologies, by providing online learning opportunities for students. The plan is to extend the programme to online workers in the hospitality industry. Despite the closure of all education institutions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, VET centres have continued conducting lectures through distance learning, while practical sessions have been postponed.
Box 2: Adding Value: Nurturing Learning Journeys
Through the European Social Fund project `Adding Value: Nurturing Learning Journeys´, the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology aims to provide flexible teaching approaches and mentoring to engage vulnerable and foreign students. The project identifies barriers to training encountered by disadvantaged individualsand provides support to help them increase their skills, including language skills, thereby allowing them to become economically independent. This is done by providing tailor-made education, training and support. The project was approved in 2017, and 32 skills kits have been offered so far to students at MCAST and secondary schools. A study was carried out to determine which gaming techniques could improve student motivation and levels of engagement in the classroom. Virtual and Augmented Reality will also be introduced in vocational programmes.
7. Modernising higher education
Tertiary educational attainment has risen further, mainly due to the arrival of EU nationals in the labour market. The tertiary educational attainment rate of people aged 30-34 increased by 3.1 pps in the last year, to 37.8% in 2019 (EU-27: 40.3%). At 17.6 pps, a large attainment gap exists between native-born (32.7%) and foreign-born individuals (50.3%), with a considerable difference between people from non-EU countries (45.8%) and EU nationals (63.7%). For the latter, the rate increased by 11 pps between 2018 and 2019. This reflects Malta’s high reliance on foreigners to meet skills shortages and sustain economic growth (European Commission, 2020a). The number of new entrants to tertiary programmes continued to increase between 2017 and 2018 (+8.1%), which is highly likely to be driven by the increase in EU nationals (+29.4%) in the 20-24 age group over the same period. In addition, the increasing number of part-time courses at tertiary level could also have a positive impact on participation trends. These positive trends can continue provided that COVID-19 does not have a long-term impact on early school leaving or on university dropout rates. Due to the crisis, lessons and exams have been held online and admission criteria have been reviewed to ease the transition from secondary level.
Efforts are underway to better align higher education with labour market needs. Despite the very high employment rate of recent tertiary graduates (95% v 85% at EU level in 2019), skills shortages remain an issue at all levels. As Malta’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism and services, temporary business closures during the pandemic are likely to affect overall employment levels, including those of recent graduates who have the least work experience. Difficulties in finding and retaining specialised skilled workers is one of the main challenges expressed by employers (European Commission 2020a). The significant increase (+85%) in the number of new entrants into ICT fields between 2015 and 2018 may help better match labour market needs in the future. The Institute of Tourism Studies is working on strengthening the quality of its academic programmes, including focusing on emerging niche industries. The National Skills Council is carrying out an audit, focusing on the skills needed to boost more sustainable growth. The aim is to identify skills gaps and to collect evidence to address mismatches and better inform education policies. The results are expected in 2021. Participation in the Eurograduate survey may also help Malta tackle this challenge. The first results from the 2018 pilot show that around 28% of master’s graduates have to accept, at least at the beginning of their career, a job below their own degree level. This situation does not improve substantially after five years, as 26% of the older cohort are still in this position. This vertical mismatch is a clear indication of a misalignment on the labour market, in the sense that demand for and supply of qualified labour do not correspond (European Commission, 2020b).
8. Promoting adult learning
Malta’s high proportion of low-qualified adults continued to decline but the need for upskilling and reskilling remains. The proportion of adults aged 25 to 64 with low qualifications fell to 44.8% in 2019, from 46% the previous year. At the same time, in 2019 adult learning participation increased by 1.1 pps to 12%, surpassing the EU-27 average of 10.8%, but still far from the 15% ET2020 benchmark. The participation rate of low-qualified adults who are more in need of upskilling and reskilling also improved, from 4.1% in 2018 to the EU-27 average of 4.3% in 2019. The Institute of Tourism studies offers part-time courses on hospitality to make learning opportunities accessible for all. The weak engagement in adult learning by the low-qualified poses the challenge of encouraging digital learning among this highly at-risk cohort. Malta promotes adult digital learning through a number of national policies, including the national e-skills strategy 2019-2021 and the national lifelong learning strategy 2020. The Lifelong Learning Centre, the State provider of adult learning, offers courses (all accredited at national qualification levels 1 and 2), including in e-skills and computer studies, and target adults within the community.
Malta is making efforts to improve the quality of adult learning. In line with the national lifelong learning strategy 2020 and as part of the migration of adult educators’ training to the University of Malta, a new diploma course in Adult Education and Training was introduced in February 2020. Among other things, the course includes a study unit dedicated to online teaching and learning. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, the Lifelong Learning Centre has switched to online learning and guidelines were published to ensure high quality. The Centre has offered all 197 academic courses through online teaching, under the care of 86 educators. This may help overcome the resistance to converting learning from traditional in-person delivery to blended adult learning courses, which represents a key challenge in the promotion of digital education in Malta.
Bergbauer, A. B., Hanushek E. A. and Woessmann, L. (2018), Testing NBER working paper 24836.
Hanushek, E. A., Link, S. and Woessmann, L. (2013), Does school autonomy make sense everywhere? Panel estimates from PISA, Journal of Development Economics, Vol. 104, pp. 212-232.
Council of the European Union (2020), ‘Council Recommendation on the 2018 National Reform Programme of Malta and delivering a Council opinion on the 2020 Stability Programme of Malta’, http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-9442-2018-INIT/en/pdf
Cedefop ReferNet Malta (2019), New VET pedagogy addresses the Industry 4.0 challenge, https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/news-and-press/news/malta-new-vet-pedagogy-addresses-industry-40-challenge
Cedefop ReferNet (2020), Malta: 2020 update of VET policy developments in the deliverables agreed in the 2015 Riga conclusions, unpublished.
Center for European Policy Studies in partnership with Grow with Google (2019), Index of Readiness for Digital Lifelong Learning: Changing How Europeans Upgrade Their Skills, https://www.ceps.eu/ceps-publications/index-of-readiness-for-digital-lifelong-learning/
European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice (2019), Digital Education at School in Europe. Eurydice Report, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
European Commission (2019a), 2nd Survey of Schools, ICT in Education: Malta Country Report, https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/2nd-survey-schools-ict-education
European Commission (2019b), Education and Training Monitor, Volume II – Malta, https://ec.europa.eu/education/resources-and-tools/document-library/education-and-training-monitor-2019-malta-report_en
European Commission (2020a), Country Report Malta 2020, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1584545686025&uri=CELEX%3A52020SC0517
European Commission (2020b), EUROGRADUATE Pilot Survey, Design and implementation of a pilot European graduate survey, http://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/51f88c2e-a671-11ea-bb7a-01aa75ed71a1/language-en
European Commission (2020c), Supporting school self-evaluation and development through quality assurance policies: key considerations for policy makers, Report by ET2020 Working Group Schools, https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/87ecf888-aeb1-11ea-bb7a-01aa75ed71a1/language-en/format-PDF/source-135360511
Eskills Malta Foundation (2019), National Eskills Strategy 2019-2021, Malta: Eskills Malta Foundation, https://eskills.org.mt/en/nationaleskillsstrategy/Documents/National_eSkills_strategy.pdf
Lavy, V. (2015), Do Differences in Schools' Instruction Time Explain International Achievement Gaps? Evidence from Developed and Developing Countries, Economic Journal, 125(588): F397-F424.
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Annex I: Key indicators sources
|Indicator||Eurostat online data code|
|Early leavers from education and training||edat_lfse_14 + edat_lfse_02|
|Tertiary educational attainment||edat_lfse_03 + edat_lfs_9912|
|Early childhood education||educ_uoe_enra10|
|Underachievement in reading, maths and science||OECD (PISA)|
|Employment rate of recent graduates||edat_lfse_24|
|Adult participation in learning||trng_lfse_03|
|Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP||gov_10a_exp|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per student||educ_uoe_fini04|
- Degree-mobile graduates
- Credit-mobile graduates
|DG EAC computation based on Eurostat / UIS / OECD data|
Annex II: Structure of the education system
Source: European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2020. The Structure of the European Education Systems 2019/2020: Schematic Diagrams. Eurydice Facts and Figures. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
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Veronica DE NISI