The Directorate for Research, Lifelong Learning and Employability recently organised an absorbing panel discussion to highlight its innovative new programme, Active Citizen Education. Launched on 2 April at the Ministry for Education and Employment in Floriana, the programme exposes people to the benefits of getting involved in their community and wider society.
Speaking at the launch, Ms Daniela Vella Blagojevic, the Assistant Director for Research, Lifelong Learning and Employability, explained that one of the functions of the directorate is to nurture community and social function values. “Active citizenship is vital to healthy societies,” she told those present. “It empowers people to be change agents for the wellbeing of communities.
“Thus, we are thrilled to launch this programme after months of planning. It will involve educators, artists, activists, organisations and communities, and will use non-formal teaching and learning strategies in various settings.”
Participants attending activities within the programme, will explore and learn about ‘active citizenship’; democracy and citizens’ rights and inclusion They will also explore the benefits of being an active citizen; and identify actions that can be taken to be more active in the community.
Also speaking at the launch, Minister for Education and Employment Evarist Bartolo said that the programme addresses a global challenge: harmonious co-existence within diversity. “The success of this programme will depend on sincere dialogue that addresses individuals’ fears, anxieties and prejudices,” he explained.
The wider panel, which was moderated by the Directorate’s Education Officer Mandy Mifsud, also gave extremely insightful input on the importance of this programme.
For instance, Dr Neil Falzon, Aditus Foundation Director and the Head of Secretariat of the Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM), pointed out that the term ‘Citizenship’ excludes people who do not have Maltese citizenship. “I would prefer the use of the word ‘Community’,” he said. “However, I would also try to ensure we don’t limit our focus on inclusivity to immigrants.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Farrugia, the Director for Research Lifelong Learning and Employability, underlined that the relevance of this programme should be seen in the context of the rise of far-right extremism throughout Europe. “We mustn’t take democracy for granted,” he said. “And we must do everything we can to defend it.”
Other panellists included Marisa Pisani, the Director for Strategy and Policy Implementation for the Local Government Division within the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government. She highlighted how local councils offer residents of all localities a platform and several opportunities to engage within their communities and improve them.
Mr Roderick Agius, the Investigations and Monitoring Officer for Voluntary Organisations, used his time on the panel to explain that even though the number of voluntary organisations is astounding, there are lacunas in certain areas. “A big number focus on philanthropy, which is only one area of active citizenship,” he said.
Beyond all this, Dr Falzon went on to express concern that, in Malta, university students and young people rarely rally behind a cause and added that some people do not speak out because of fear of retribution. Similarly, Mr Farrugia underlined that many people are not even aware of their rights. He emphasised the importance of critical thinking as well as knowledge of history to active citizenship. Finally, Mr Agius attributed the element of fear and apathy to a residual colonial mentality, while Ms Pisani emphasised for the need for communication and social interaction between the members of a community.
In summation, the panel established that the promotion of active citizenship through education was essential. “When individuals unite and engage to create a better world, the whole community benefits, not just a privileged few,” they agreed.
More information will be released in the coming weeks.