Education system fails to create critical thinking, academics warn

The education system is producing a workforce ill-equipped to think critically, a group of academics warned on Friday.

In an open letter to several government ministers on Friday, a group of 40 academics in science, technology, engineering and mathematics said the education system was failing to produce critical minds.

“The current approach to education rewards rote learning [the act of memorising curricula] and leads to a workforce ill-equipped to deal with issues that require critical and innovative thinking,” the letter read.

“As scientists, scholars and employers, we experience this reality every day – students and employees often need to hone their skills to deal with today’s dynamic and challenging reality.”

Poor understanding of computer science

Academics say that although there have been a significant number of initiatives in recent years, recent statistics show that an insufficient number of students are undertaking studies in science, mathematics and engineering.

“More generally, we still encounter sixth-graders who think computer science is about fixing physical computers, or who think science is a prescribed set of laboratory experiments,” the letter says.

Educational programs do not nurture students’ curiosity to pursue studies in these important fields, they warn.

This problem has exacerbated the country’s reliance on third-country nationals to fill technical and high-level jobs.

The letter was sent to Education Minister Justyne Caruana, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana and Innovation Minister Owen Bonnici.

“For a number of years, we have been seriously considering options on how we can help our country have a workforce with the right skills and mindset,” they state. .

What do academics offer?

The group presented a three-pronged proposal that they believe could be developed into a comprehensive long-term national strategy.

First, academics say they call for a focus on so-called STEM thinking emphasis on concepts from science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This, they say, should be taught in primary and secondary schools as part of the core curriculum.

“Although we have programs in place for our students to acquire STEM literacy, this does not lead to creative, computational and critical thinking in our society,” the letter states.

Academics say such thinking goes beyond a specific career path and includes universal problem-solving skills.

“A workforce with these thinking tools is a necessity for an evolving Maltese society. Current barriers to literacy and misconceptions – such as those related to gender – surrounding STEM can be circumvented through alternative teaching approaches that emphasize communicating complex concepts to students of different ages while keeping them engaged and motivated.

The next proposal concerns STEM programs just like those of sports and art schools.

Promising students, they say, can excel and progress faster in these subjects if they receive the right training.

“We propose that there are post-secondary programs dedicated to STEM subjects. Highly talented students are unlikely to find the content covered in schools challenging enough. Students with excellent STEM backgrounds should be recognized and seen provide the opportunity,” the letter read.

Finally, they call for a new resource center to encourage “engaged research”.

The center would focus on engaging the public in research activities, securing funding for such research initiatives, and encouraging student exchanges and international collaborations – all with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of students in STEM subjects.

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