Simply having good intentions does not make you eligible to be minister of education and this is why I am rather irked by the partisan comments some lawyer-politicians are making in the name of good intentions and the residual patronising determination to do “so much good and progress”. The education system is a large and complex system which along the years has been often abused by lawyer-politicians to promote their good will, and this has often resulted in the creation of serious defects in the system.
One of the major defects that our education system had accumulated over the years was that books other than the standard curricula textbooks, were nearly completely missing from our schools. Rather than instilling the love of reading and books in children, the system presented books to children only as tools for their academic study. Under the current government administration, this whole culture of books in the education system is being turned around in the most radical manner.
One of the first things I did when entering office in the National Book Council, was to collaborate with my colleagues at the Education Ministry to analyse the situation relating to books in schools and the education system. We visited schools, toured school libraries and classes and interviewed teachers and headmasters.
What we had encountered was truly shocking. Schools, which were allocated a very small budget to cover all administrative and maintenance expenses, barely afforded to buy books for their class and school libraries. Some pro-active headmasters used to organise fund-raising events so as to have some extra cash to buy books, while other headmasters went without buying office supplies so that they were able to purchase a small number of books for their libraries.
At first we couldn’t believe that books, one of the most important educational tools in the system, had been sidelined, if not ignored, for so long. The situation was simply absurd, but this absurdity would reach comical levels when I used to visit classrooms and find out that the only books available for extra-curricular reading were books which go back to the date when I myself sat at the school bench.
Thanks to the National Book Council, and the National Literacy Agency under a coordinated effort by the Education Department and Ministry, more than two million euros in books and reading resources are to be distributed in schools and classes all over Malta by the end of 2017. The books and resources are being distributed according to a programme set up by the National Literacy Agency with the aim of covering all of Malta’s schools with new books and resources.
Much focus is being given to class libraries so that books are directly and easily accessible to children. The Agency is also giving courses and direction on how books and reading material is presented to children. This large-scale coordinated effort is just one of the many initiatives and reforms that the current Ministry of Education has spearheaded in order to address serious problems in the education system.
We must not allow to have generations of students leaving school thinking that books are the equivalent of a users’ manual to a consumerist object. Books are the key to the success of our future generations and we must present books to children as tools of knowledge, creativity and also pure fun and enjoyment. This is what we are trying to achieve through the Malta Book Festival which, this year, is to be held from the 9th to the 13th November at MCC.
At the Malta Book Festival, we give each child and student visiting during morning hours with one’s school or class, a €3 book voucher and this is to ensure that every child visiting the Book Festival leaves with a book in his or her hand. The Festival welcomes school-children in a festive and celebratory atmosphere with book characters who come alive as they interact with the children. While children browse through the endless book shelves, a book character might come their way dissolving in the process the boundaries between the fantastic and the real. This formula has worked excellently in last year’s Festival and we will be repeating this formula once again with even greater theatrics.
We are looking forward for this year’s Book Festival and we are proud of how we have developed the Book Festival from a bazaar into a fully-fledged celebration of reading and books. It is in the same way that the Ministry of Education and the National Book Council would like to change the reading culture in our education system: from a curriculum necessity, into a celebration of knowledge, fantasy and life.