Development of adult education initiatives in Malta1
Adult education occurred in different historical and ideological Maltese contexts. Adult education was traditionally associated with adult literacy and basic education in the period ranging from the last part of the 19th century to the early part of the 20th century, at a time when there was no mass public education. Throughout most of the 20th century, it was linked with emigration and involved literacy education, especially in the English language intended to assist prospective emigrants in emigrating to settlement colonies. Vocational education, often with a strong agricultural bias, was also instrumental in this regard.
Adult education was also associated with religious instruction and with social development with the latter initially often promoted by institutions with a strong Catholic orientation and that followed the social teachings of the Catholic Church. This was certainly the case with MAS (Social Action Movement) from the mid-fifties onward.
Later, there was the emergence of an academy connected with Christian Democratic politics while the 1980s saw the coming to the fore of NGOs having a socialist and labour-oriented view of adult education.
The other major player in the adult education scenario has traditionally included the State, especially with respect to general education and labour market training. Since the 1980s, the state has provided its own adult education programmes first through the Department of Further Studies and Adult Education and later through the Adult Learning Unit within the Directorate for Lifelong Learning (which is presently named the Directorate for Research, Lifelong Learning and Employability).
These directorates have offered state funded adult education at different levels from literacy and basic education to courses leading to matriculation certificates at Ordinary, Intermediate and Advanced levels to courses for learners who seek to improve their chances for a better position at work, become computer literate, learn a craft or to tap their creative resources through Art, Music or Drama.
The early 1990s also saw the establishment of an important centre for vocational education, the government’s Employment and Training Corporation (ETC), while the first decade of this millennium saw the re-emergence of another Higher Education college, dedicated to vocational education - the state-run Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) - which also attaches importance to adult vocational education. In this regard, it complements the University of Malta.
Current policy priorities
When it was set up in 2009, the Directorate for Lifelong Learning (DLLL) was tasked to design a national strategy in lifelong learning intended to:
• Bring about coordination in the sector by making optimal use of the diverse learning providers and settings which characterised lifelong learning systems;
• Lift the barriers for participation, so that the overall volume of participation in adult learning is increased and to address the imbalances in participation in order to achieve a more equitable state of affairs;
• Ensure the quality of adult learning; and
• To encourage more adults in active citizenship.
After a period of public consultation, the National Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 was launched in July 2015. The Strategy focuses on facilitating the participation of people aged 16 years and greater in post-compulsory education, vocational education and training (VET), higher education, and adult education. The Strategy consolidates and builds on ideas and processes already taking shape in different organisations and institutions in Malta, so as to ensure a single, coherent policy document to guide actions in lifelong learning.
In 2014, a National Diploma in Teaching Adults was launched by the Adult Lifelong Learning Unit to improve the quality of adult education in Malta. The diploma, which had a very flexible programme, saw the graduation of 100 students in 2017.
In 2016, the Lifelong Learning Unit conducted a pilot project which was called OUT REACH and had as its main focus the strengthening of basic skills and workplace training. This unit also introduced the adult learning awards to raise awareness about adult learning in Malta and award best practices.
The first learning centre for disabled persons in Gozo was also launched with the aim of assisting disabled people to participate in the labour market by strengthening their skills. This centre is the result of an agreement between the government and the Roman Catholic Church.
The number of lifelong courses offered by DRLLE has increased and now range from basic skills to vocational and educational training. The number of adult learning centres has increased as well.
Between 2014 and 2017, the Lifelong Learning Task Force Group steering the National Lifelong Learning Strategy for Malta 2020 was set up to ensure a single, coherent place to guide actions in lifelong learning.
In 2018, the group’s remit was further extended to oversee the implementation of the Lifelong Learning Strategy, the Upskilling Pathways Recommendation and the EU Agenda for Adult Learning policy coordination to ensure continuity and complementarity in policy and provision initiatives and to avoid duplication.
In July 2018, the group drew up a report on the 11 measures targeting different sub-groups of adults with a low level of skills, knowledge and competences. These initiatives are addressing the key elements mentioned in the Upskilling Pathways Recommendation and the objectives of the Lifelong Learning Strategy namely:
• Skills assessment
• A tailored and flexible learning offer
• Validation and recognition
• Outreach, guidance and support measures
• Coordination and partnership
• Follow-up and evaluation
Recent outcomes and impacts as a result of monitoring through the Lifelong Learning strategy include:
1. The evaluation of basic skills courses and the National Diploma in Teaching Adults.
2. The implementation at national level the Schools as Community Learning Centres following the successful implementation of the pilot project.
3. A national media campaign focusing on adult learners’ stories to encourage participation.
4. The accreditation of over 70% of courses offered by the Directorate for Research, Lifelong
Learning and Employability and increased collaboration with over 12 Government entities and NGOS and 35 Local Councils with a reach of over 8,000 adults.
5. A newly revised quality assurance policy was developed and published to ensure better quality in Lifelong Learning courses.
6. A new website and applications system is being developed for Lifelong Learning courses to ensure a more user-friendly platform accessible to those who may have low ICT skills and to ensure better learner analytics by the public provider.
As a result of these developments the number of adults participating in lifelong learning has increased from 7.7% in 2013 to 11.9% in 2019. While both male and female participation rates have increased in the intervening years, the percentage rate for males has increased from 7.4% to 10.7% from 2013 to 2019 while the increase for female participation rose from 8.0% to 13.4% for the same years2.
 Adapted from: Borg Carmel, Mayo Peter and Raykov Milosh (2016), Adult Learning in Malta: Insights into Current Participation, Content and Forms of Adult Learning, University of Malta.
 Source: Eurostat (Adult participation in learning by sex (online data code: SDG_04_60), accessed 21 March 2021