Revised Education Act
6th September 2021
The Office of the Commissioner for Children welcomes the announcement that the revised Education Act is set to come into force next month. This is an important step forward in Malta’s implementation of children’s fundamental right to education, as laid out in Articles 28 and 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Among the provisions that are conducive to the right of children to education, is the extension of this right to all children of compulsory school age who reside in Malta, irrespective of their status; the duty of the State to ensure the availability of early childhood education and care centres, which effectively makes child day care centres an integral part of the educational pathway; and a sharper focus on the enforcement of school registration and attendance of children.
Notwithstanding these positive developments, the Office is concerned that the revised Education Act is not based on children’s rights and therefore is not sufficiently child-centred. The best interests of the child should be paramount throughout the whole Act. The Act should apply to all educational institutions whether State, Church or independent.
Despite the ongoing experience of a pandemic that has severely disrupted the education of children, the Act does not provide a legal framework to ensure that all children continue to enjoy their right to education. Such a framework should also provide guarantees in terms of the provision and quality of alternative educational arrangements that should be in place in the event of full or partial school closures as also outlined by young people themselves.
The pandemic has taught us that remote learning is possible. Therefore, this Act should make it possible for children who are not able to attend school physically to continue to receive high quality education within their class by making lessons accessible remotely.
Students do not need more education but better education. If this can be achieved, the Office agrees that we can then look to extending compulsory school age since the rightful place of children is in education.
The Office has always been at the forefront in promoting the right of children to speak and be listened to by those who take decisions on their behalf. In this respect, it is of concern to the Office that, unlike the 2018 education bills, the revised Education Act lacks a provision obliging education authorities to conduct a child impact assessment before introducing new policies or educational initiatives.
The Office calls for these and other concerns articulated in its Position Paper on the revised Education Act, which is available here, to be discussed in Parliament and addressed through the necessary amendments to the Education Act.