According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), persons between the ages of 18 and 24 whose highest level of education or training do not reach the ISCED criteria and are not in training or education in the four weeks preceding the survey are considered to be early leavers. Whereas students with five O levels were previously considered as early leavers, this has now changed. This has led to a discrepancy in the percentage of ESLs ( Early School Leavers)in Malta. In fact, figures released on the Eurostat Yearbook in 2012 showed that the proportion of early school leavers in Malta stood at 33.5% in 2011, a full 20 per cent above the 13.5% EU27 . On the other hand, the NSO National Statistics Office and Education Ministry say early school leavers rate stands at 22.6%.
No matter the exact percentage, Malta is still one of the countries with the highest (ESL) rates in Europe. What makes matters worse is the fact that Malta's main resource, apart from the sea and the sun are its own inhabitants. Thus we cannot afford an uneducated population.
The Minister of Education, Mr Evarist Bartolo presented a document entitled An Early School Leaving Strategy for Malta presenting a number of measures aimed at reducing the amount of ESLs. He explained that one of the main measures that were proposed was the extension of vocational training in secondary schools.
"Our aim is to spread vocational education in secondary schools. We are in the process of evaluating the pilot project which is taking place in five schools, spreading over state, church and independent schools, which introduced a hands-on learning experience of engineering, Information Technology, hospitality and social care," Mr Bartolo said.
He explained that a number of students simply opt to stay at home, while another unidentified number of students is disengaged and uninterested in school.
"We have to combine traditional instruction with vocational subjects to generate interest among these students," Mr Bartolo said.
The Maltese government is bound by the European Union's ten-year growth strategy, Europe 2020, to decrease the rate to 10% within the next seven years.
Asked what target the government will set, Bartolo said: "We have to be ambitious and aim at reducing the figure as much as possible by 2020." However, he refused to be drawn into giving a definitive figure.
During the previous months, the government has embarked on a headcount of how many fifth form students were continuing their post-secondary education or entering foundation courses, to identify the number of persons not in education, employment or training. The ministry said this would be done to tackle the problem in its infancy and shape a youth guarantee scheme, which addresses the problem.