What are the main barriers being faced when it comes to fostering a national strategy for technology and innovation that encompasses education efforts at the younger levels?
Intro – keeping up with the pace of change
- One of the biggest challenges of education, in general, is that it aims to teach you skills today which will be used at some point in the future
- Given the fast pace of change, this is no doubt challenging and the emergence and convergence of a number of technologies including increased computing power, digitalisation, robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and how these are transforming all industries including the traditional ones will definitely require our educational systems to transform themselves
- A key example is a lawyer – with the onset and increased use of smart contracts; do lawyers have to have a good knowledge and skill set of coding?
Main challenges one faces are intertwined and hinge on uncertainty
- Many of today’s children will work in new job types that do not yet exist, with an increased premium on both digital and social-emotional skills in the coming years.
- The gap between education and jobs is further widened by limited innovation in learning systems, which were largely designed to mirror factory-style growth models. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has made it imperative that education systems adapt.
- Without action, the next generation will be unprepared for the needs of the future, creating risks for both productivity and social cohesion.
Barriers also relate to innate digital skills & inclusivity
- In order to teach and foster digital skills, the educational systems need to be digital to the core and therefore also the teachers and lecturers need to have digital pedagogical skills
- We need schools to have the right equipment and infrastructure to support the educators in their processes
- Also, we are realising that with the onset of online education, we need to continue addressing the digital divide to ensure that students have access to strong internet connectivity and have access to the equipment needed to follow their classes
- There is an opportunity for public and private sector leaders to reset primary and secondary education systems and co-design content and delivery that deliver on children’s needs for the future.
How are these challenges being met?
Malta has an already strong digital skillset
- On Human Capital, Malta ranks 6th among EU countries and has moved up in the ranking since last year’s DESI.
- The country is slightly below the EU average for basic digital and software skills. 56% of people have at least basic digital skills (EU average: 58%), and 58% have at least basic software skills (EU average: 61%).
- However, the country outperforms the EU average on all the other indicators. 38% of people in Malta have above average basic digital skills, outperforming the EU average of 33%.
- The percentage of ICT specialists in the workforce is also higher than the EU average (4.8% vs 3.9%). ICT graduates have significantly increased, reaching 7.9% of all graduates – well above the EU average of 3.6%. Progress has been also made on female ICT specialists, who account for 2.1% of the female workforce, compared to an EU average of 1.4%.
The strategy is in place to cater for these challenges
- In March 2019, Malta launched a comprehensive ‘National eSkills Strategy’ (2019-2021), led by the eSkills Malta Foundation.
- The strategy covers many areas, including (i) basic digital literacy; (ii) quality of ICT teaching; (iii) advanced skills; and (iv) re-skilling and upskilling of the workforce. To steer its implementation and facilitate stakeholder engagement, an ‘eSkills Strategic Consultative Committee’ was set up in 2019. This Committee brings together representatives of the education and training systems, industry (SMEs), citizens and ICT professionals.
- The strategy is progressing, building on a number of digital skills initiatives launched in previous years. In 2019, initiatives have included: (i) upskilling of teachers; (ii) investing in ICT infrastructure (e.g. the ‘One Tablet per Child’ scheme in primary schools); and (iii) re-designing educational curricula to include the concepts of coding, robotics, animation and editing
Tech.MT and its role to enhance education in STEM
- MT is also taking a key role in championing the role of digital education
- We have launched highly successful summer courses for children at all levels to get familiar with digital skill sets
- We remain committed to enhancing the educational component and access at all levels
What do you believe are the main elements that need to be incorporated within such a strategy, in order to make it successful?
Build on previous strategies
- The results Malta is achieving is a testament that we have generally been on the right track in building a pool of digital talent
- The COVID experience has brought to the fore, even more urgently, the need for a holistic digital strategy to ensure that education is digital to the core
- Going forward I believe that such a strategy needs to be very forward-looking and ensuring that students are given the tools for the future, failing to do so will definitely limit our investment attractiveness and readiness in the future
Keeping it simple – two main priorities
- I believe that for a strategy to be effective it needs to be kept simple and therefore I believe that any strategy in this regard needs to have two main priorities:
- Fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem
- Enhancing digital skills and competencies for the digital transformation
Building the ecosystem
Fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem requires:
- infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment;
- effective digital capacity planning and development, including up-to-date organisational capabilities;
- digitally competent and confident teachers and education and training staff;
- high-quality learning content, user-friendly tools and secure platforms which respect privacy and ethical standards.
Enhancing digital skills
Enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation requires:
- basic digital skills and competences from an early age including:
- digital literacy, including fighting disinformation
- computing education
- good knowledge and understanding of data-intensive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality and IoT
- ensure that all professions such as lawyers and accountants are also exposed to the digital developments in their profession
- advanced digital skills which produce more digital specialists and also ensure that girls and young women are equally represented in digital studies and careers