by Elliott Phillips MP, Shadow Minister for Justice, Equality, Youth, Education, Employment Drugs and Rehabilitation of Offenders
It has long been said that our children are our future ambassadors and the provision of education is vitally important. We can all, I think, agree with that statement. At the opening of Parliament the Chief Minister reasserted the Government’s commitment to the education of our children and again we can all agree that education must rank very high on our community’s agenda. Recently the Minister for Education repeated the Government’s promise to build 5 new schools. No doubt the Government will soon announce how the Government will complete this undertaking over the next 3 years with as little disruption to our students and teachers as possible particularly at crucial learning and examination time.
Building new schools is important but it is not only about bricks and mortar- it’s about reforming education. We have long advocated the need for better opportunities for our young people and during the last General Election we put forward our vision for education which went beyond the building of new schools. We believe that we must have an honest and open debate and look at education and its provision from the ground up which puts educators, students, parents our employers at the heart of such reform. The GSD has been at the forefront of the debate on co-education and has led on the question of apprenticeship and the training of skills.
One critical reform must be how we provide for the many young people that do not relate and therefore fail to respond traditional class room teaching. Not everyone wants to go to University and to push our children who struggle to meet the grades to complete a course of higher education which employers don’t want and which does not improve our young people’s prospects is simply the wrong approach. We do not want to discourage people from pursuing higher education but we must focus on alternatives and getting the best out of young people and providing each of them with a sustainable job. We must also have a robust career development service that must start interacting with our students at a younger age.
We have argued that we must listen closely to what our educators, students and parents are saying about how education is delivered in our community. As someone who has gone through our education system I appreciate that we are all proud of the education that many thousands of Gibraltarians have been able to enjoy, an education which has been instrumental in the development of our young people into active and productive members of our community.
Results in public examinations are important as they are a gateway to higher education but they are not the be all and end all. My colleagues in the Opposition have advocated the need for an apprenticeship programme that goes beyond traditional skills and raises the opportunity for our young people to access an alternative gateway to sustainable career. We want to see the development of a gold standard in apprenticeship and training of technical skills. The Government do not agree with our proposals. A significant number of 14-19 year old cannot relate to the traditional classroom learning environment and we will fail as a community if we cannot create better opportunities for them as well. We believe that we also need to explore the creation of a Studio School which was first introduced in Britain in 2010 and where there are now over 35 Studio Schools operating. Studio Schools work differently. Education is delivered outside the classroom environment through enterprise projects in schools and within the community.
Irrespective of whether there will be a hard or light Brexit, Gibraltar arguably faces its biggest challenge to date and although we must focus our efforts on securing and influencing Gibraltar’s position from outside the European Union, we also need ensure that our people can meet the technical skills demand of employers and new business. If we as a community are to re-invent our unique selling point or encourage big business to set up here we cannot and must not be complacent about education and the training of technical skills. The future maybe uncertain but it is ours to shape and we must secure our children’s future by ensuring that we create alternative pathways which are just as valuable as higher education.