Education goes far beyond school corridors and classrooms, and one Maltese initiative is making sure this gets to minds (and hands) of the island’s future generations.
Recently launched by the Ministry of Education, the My Journey Project is a reform aimed at offering students the opportunity to follow through their educational journey with a more hands-on approach in various subjects which are being offered along the traditional academic route.
During Year 8, students can choose from a vocational or applied programme within their secondary school for the next three consecutive years.
Subjects are then structured to fit the needs of the students, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach towards a more inclusive system.
Joe Zerafa was responsible for monitoring the implementation of the new state-of-the-art workshops at the heart of this incredible initiative.
“This will bring about a significant change to the way traditional academic subjects are taught, learned and assessed,” Zerafa says of the initiative.
“Students who learn better through a hands-on application and are more inclined toward a trades or service-oriented education will also be able to succeed.”
The reform aims to reduce the number of early school-leavers while also encouraging more students to further their studies beyond the age of 16.
My Journey: Achieving through different paths will also give equal value to academically applied and vocational learning schedules.
Because of this, students will be able to sit for different forms of learning and assessments, while still having the opportunity to reach the same level of qualifications, thus allowing all an equal shot at employability – regardless of their chosen path of education.
For this reason, a total of nine vocational and applied subjects have been introduced.
These include agribusiness, engineering technology, information technology, media literacy, retail, health and social care, fashion and textiles, hospitality and hairdressing and beauty.
The 10 colleges around Malta and Gozo have been divided into four clusters with around 77 workshops being introduced within the twelve secondary schools. These include three laboratories for agribusiness and another nine workshops for all the subjects within the Gozo College in the Victoria Secondary School.
How was this all implemented?
One of the first challenges Zerafa and his team faced was finding space for all of the proposed vocational workshops within the secondary schools.
“From the very beginning, the aim was for the workshops to be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.”
With this in mind, they started by visiting various industries and institutions, from hotels to hospitals and care homes, ITS and MCAST campuses and many others to build on their practical experience in each sector.
This sharing of ideas and resources helped the team in coming up with lists of resources for each subject, including all the basic equipment required for the hands-on processes, high-end technological equipment, machinery, and specialised furniture.
With the research in hand, the next step was to open discussions with representatives from the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools.
Targets were set by shareholders, the necessary feedback was given and the project was then evaluated accordingly. Plans for each subject were drawn after consultations with FTS and representatives within the Vocational Unit (MEDE).
The workshops were designed in line with a methodology based on the needs of the students and the equipment needed, rather than placing the equipment according to the services – which was the current method of practice in place.
“All the workshops within the respective schools were designed on a similar basis,” Zerafa says, “when the works within were finalised, equipment was installed and the labs were finally coming into fruition.”
The process involved collaboration between the Education Logistics and Administration Unit, the Vocational Section, the schools and the respective suppliers, where every delivered item was checked and compared with that awarded during the Tenders’ Evaluation stage.
With a €12 million investment, just over 55% of which went towards works expenses, €5.3 million went towards supplies.
€3 million worth of the supplies were financed through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
As expected from such a wide-reaching and ambitious initiative, the entire process was equally complex and thorough.
“We had robust actions in all areas, including infrastructural, curricular and service-wide,” Dr Fabri said of the project. “My Journey institutionalised amongst other things democratised VET and applied subjects with parity of esteem in all traditional and existing subjects.”
The Programme Implementation Unit (PIU) within the Strategy & Support Department of the Education Department is responsible for this EU-funded programme, which includes continuous follow-up regarding the equipment delivered to the labs, amounting to around 80,000 items, payment processes to the respective suppliers, inventories, spot checks and auditing processes.
“Every vocational workshop was designed in line not only with today’s requirements but also for the future thanks to some intense industry research.”
For example, hospitality workshops include industrial kitchen units as well as restaurant floors, complete with bar areas, receptions and concierge desks and even a bedroom (equipped with en suite facilities).
Health and social care workshops consist of a number of sections, including the hospital area, the baby area (complete with kitchenette), a disabled friendly bathroom (including a disabled-friendly bath), a one-to-one discussion area and testing area.
Hairdressing and beauty workshops were given facilities such as mirror stations for every student, backwash units, trolleys and beauty couches.
Fashion and textiles have drafting areas with heavy duty tables and a number of different sewing machines; including domestic, electronic, mechanical and industrial sewing machines. There are also a number of mannequins and a large wall mirror.
Engineering facilities consisted of an engineering area, woodwork area, electronic area (all with adequate Health & Safety implementations) and also a number of 3D Printers, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines and Printed Circuit Board engravers.
Information technology areas included benches, complete with all required tools and equipment for the repair of computers, as well as another section for software installation.
The Agribusiness subject, apart from the laboratories within the three respective schools (Handaq SS, Mosta SS (Zokrija) and Victoria SS), include three external laboratories, namely Mosta Farm, Għammieri Farm and Xewkija Farm in Gozo.
Every workshop is equipped with the latest technology, including wireless internet access, interactive flat panels with adjustable height and self-contained computer systems.
“During the design of the said workshops, inclusion was also on our minds. All workshops are accessible to all and equipped with every requirement, maintaining every necessary standard, including adjustable desks and required areas for wheelchair users.”
More than 100 educators were engaged and offered training opportunities to teach the applied subjects, ensuring My Journey’s success as a project. The state-of-the-art workshops should, therefore, encourage students to opt for the non-traditional route within their studies by choosing from one or more vocational or applied subjects, in fact for this scholastic year 2019/2020, 60% of Year 9 students chose at least one vocational/applied subject.
“Starting a new journey, embracing a new experience, will widen their options to further their studies within other institutions,” Zerafa said in closing.