Diversity in education – Mario Cardona

For the past months, reports in the Times of Malta have repeatedly highlighted the apprehension of some regarding the decision made by the Engineering Board to admit Mcast B.Eng. graduates to apply for a professional warrant. The apprehensions and protests warrant reflection.

Mcast takes pride in being a unique organisation that provides second-chance education to students who leave compulsory education without the necessary certification. It provides them with alternative education, enabling them to reach MQF level 3 and 4 and, thus, get into a degree programme if they wish to.

The Sec certificate issued by the Matsec board should not be the only credential to open up progression pathways into further education. Neither is the mostly summative-style Sec examination the only tool available to measure educational attainment.

That we should move away from a one-size-fits-all education system is now almost a cliché. Mcast provides other ways how to obtain qualifications at technical, Bachelor’s and Master’s level. Being a different one to the conventional academic route does not mean it is inferior or superior. 

It is simply a different route towards achieving professional competence and excellence while respecting established quality standards by professional bodies.

At the economic level, it would also be foolish to hamper the upward mobility of those who prefer to learn in a vocational institution. 

Pedagogical literature teems with arguments about different learning styles. 

The focus in the literature is never on ranking one learning style over another but always on the need for educational systems to cater for diversity. Our society needs everyone, regardless of their learning style preferences. The moment we start leaving those who do not learn through the most conventional of ways to fall by the wayside our educational system will become a system of selection and privilege rather than of human achievement and social justice.

Mcast made the conscious decision to offer alternative progression routes to students who, at 16 years of age, leave secondary school without qualifications. 

Sometimes this is seen as lowering of standards. However, such an argument is based on an elitist vision of education. 

Italian educator, Don Lorenzo Milani, says that when educational institutions send away students with learning difficulties and blame them for their own failures, they become hospitals who send away the sick and cure the healthy.

Our society needs everyone, regardless of their learning style preferences

Mcast wants to be an educational institution that does not give up on learners. 

Students who at age 16 have found the courage to have another go at getting their entitlement for a decent education that enables them to reach their human fulfilment should be encouraged and admired, not condemned or marginalised.

Mcast believes in diversity of provision. Since its inception it has reached out to other educational institutions, locally and abroad, to build bridges and develop its educational programmes to high standards. One of our partners is the University of Malta. I would like to mention three instances.

Firstly, students who complete a two-year Mcast higher diploma in advanced studies in the early years can do a third year at the Faculty of Education to obtain a BA in early childhood education and care.

Secondly, students at the Faculty of Engineering attend practical sessions in Mcast’s workshops in the summer to complement their academic studies with hands-on practice, making them better potential warranted professional engineers.

Thirdly, Mcast and the University of Malta are collaborating with the Malta Council for Science and Technology to entice more students to take up science and technology subjects at secondary school and at further and higher education levels.

Between the two institutions there is mutual respect. Collaboration between them will only work in favour of the students of both institutions and the society at large. 

However, we must acknowledge that more needs to be done to ensure the permeability between further and higher education institutions in Malta, a process that was supposed to be facilitated by the adoption of the Malta Qualifications Framework.

Finally, that some members of the engineering profession should feel somewhat threatened because Mcast graduates can put in an application to be considered for a warrant by the competent authority is quite hard to understand. 

In the educational field, we have at least three state-funded institutions as well as other private higher education institutions that cater for the nation’s needs. Mcast is one of them. Together, we still cannot cope with the demand for different kinds of educators that our schools need. Besides educators, the country also needs engineers.

It would be unwise to adopt an exclusive model in the engineering field and shun Mcast engineering graduates be-cause of prejudices against vocational education institutions. 

Countries like Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands are very proud of the VET systems and of their applied sciences and technical universities. 

Here in Malta it seems we still need to overcome the prejudice and admit that Mcast alumni are indeed not the children of a lesser god.

Mario Cardona is deputy principal of the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology.

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