Malta's Guidance and Counselling Services:

An Overview (1987-1996)

 

JOSEPH M. SAMMUT

 

INTRODUCTION

 

In this chapter I propose to look at initiatives after 1987, describing the attempts that were made to meet the ever changing needs of parents and students. Various new services were introduced over the past decade, while others were upgraded or extended, in line with a mission statement which declares that:

 

'The Guidance and Counselling Services of the Education Division (also incorporating the Personal and Social Education Programme in the Secondary Schools) provide a comprehensive, integrated and continuous service to students and parents aimed at helping in the full development of the whole personality of the student as intended in the Education Act, 1988.

The Guidance and Counselling Services supported, supplemented and complemented by Personal and Social Education and other helping agencies, have a central role in developing the personal, social, educational and vocational potential of all students.

The Guidance and Counselling programme (as well as the Personal and Social Education Programme) is based on the developmental, person-centred approach and is, therefore, primarily concerned with empowering students to learn and to take responsibility rather than imposing particular options and decisions on them'.

 

Presently, the Guidance and Counselling Services falls under the remit of the Director of Education in charge of Student Services and International Relations. The line of responsibility is drawn from the Director to an Assistant Director (Student Services), and to an Education Officer (Guidance and Counselling). The Assistant Director ensures the co-ordination between Guidance and I Counselling Services and other related Departmental Agencies (such as Welfare and Psychological Services), facilitating the best use of available expertise through cross-referrals. The Education Officer is directly responsible for the co-ordination of the work of Counsellors, Guidance Teachers and Personal and Social Education facilitators.

There are 7 counsellors in the secondary school sector, 107 guidance teachers (56 male, 51 female), and 77 Personal and Social education facilitators (29 male, 48 female). 4 other counsellors are awaiting their appointment, three to serve at the secondary school level, and one at the primary school level. The Reorganisation Agreement drawn up between the Government and the Malta Union of Teachers in 1994, and referring to the Classification, Regrading and Assimilation of the Education Class, specifies that the state secondary and post-secondary sector should be allocated one guidance teacher per 300 students. According to this same agreement guidance teachers have a maximum teaching load of 14 lessons, and receive a special annual allowance for the performance of their duties. Currently, guidance teachers and counsellors have the opportunity to follow a diploma level course of studies at the University of Malta. The diploma level course is the minimum qualification required by the State to appoint a guidance teacher to the Counsellor grade. Counsellors must also have not less than ten years teaching experience, of which at least the last five must be in state schools, and must have also served for at least five years as Guidance Teachers in state schools.

Some of the main activities that are organised by the Guidance and Counselling Services are briefly described in the first part of this chapter. One of these initiatives, namely the Tracer Study looking at the vocational and educational choices of Maltese school leavers, is considered in more detail in the second part of the present article.

MAIN DEVELOPMENTS 1987 -1996

In what follows I will classify the different services offered by the Guidance and Counselling Services under several headings. It must be kept in mind, however, that all services overlap each other, and that while distinct, they nevertheless form part of one holistic service.

 

Guidance and Counselling Services in Primary Schools

Guidance and Counselling Services were officially introduced in the Education Division in 1974, when a Reorganisation Agreement was reached between the Government and the M.U.T. The services were, however, primarily restricted to the Secondary and post-Secondary sector. It was through another Reorganisation Agreement, struck twenty years later, that the post of Counsellor for the Primary Schools was created, thus, completing the service from the primary to the post-secondary level.

 

Staff Development

The extension of guidance and counselling services to the primary school sector brought about with it an increase in the quantity of staff. It was also thought essential to provide ongoing in-service training and development programmes to ensure constant improvement in the quality of provision. Professional development courses were provided by the Education Division, with the support of both local and foreign expects. Besides this training, various counsellors and guidance teachers participated in courses and seminars in Europe and the U.S. as part of this ongoing training programme.

 

Vocational Guidance

A number of new services in vocational guidance have been created over the past ten years. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is the annual Careers Convention, one of the highlights of the programme of activities of the Guidance and Counselling Services. All the major enterprises in Malta have an information stand offering students and parents information regarding present and future employment opportunities. A parallel programme of talks, seminars and conferences for students, parents, guidance teachers, educators and employers is also organised during the Careers Convention.

An organised attempt was launched in the late 1980's in order to ensure that each Secondary School was equipped with a Careers Information Room. Each year, three to four schools succeed in setting up an attractive, fully equipped Careers Room where students are provided with all careers information needed.

Furthermore, all school leavers participate in a one-day careers seminar at the Permanent Careers Exhibition premises at Floriana. During this one-day seminar, school leavers are provided with relevant information material, and with an overview of the prevailing employment situation in Malta. They have the opportunity to practice the filling in of job-related forms, and in the writing of a curriculum vitae. Students are also invited to complete a personality questionnaire and to take part in a mock interview.

The Guidance and Counselling Services also publishes, on an annual basis, a set of information leaflets as well as a prospectus on all post-secondary school courses. The leaflets are handed out to students and parents on request, while the prospectus is mailed to all school leavers.

Another item in the Vocational Guidance programme is the organisation of careers visits to different employment institutions and post-secondary schools. Schools are encouraged to organise their own programmes in response to their students' needs.

 

Educational Guidance

The Guidance and Counselling Services offers one-to-one counselling and information sessions to students and parents at critical transition points, that is when students are moving from the primary school sector to the secondary school one, when subject options and clusters have to be chosen at the second and third form level, and when students leave the secondary school sector and go to the post-secondary school one. Besides the continuous help offered during the scholastic year, guidance personnel organise talks for parents of children in their final year of primary schooling, in order to provide information about secondary schools. A Careers Preference Survey is conducted amongst second form students in order to provide support in the choice of subject options and clusters. Third form students are also offered specialised help prior to the choice of the Technology Education option, while school leavers are provided with counselling and guidance as they consider future educational and occupational paths.

 

In the last few years, the Guidance and Counselling Services has intensified its research activities, and has been conducting an annual investigation on the level of parental attendance for talks organised in view of the transition of primary school students to the secondary school sector, and on the career preferences of second form students. A tracer study on occupational and educational choices made by school leavers is also organised on an annual basis, and details of the results of this research are presented in the second part of this chapter.

 

Personal Guidance

Personal guidance and counselling services are provided both within the context of the school setting, and at the Centre in Floriana. One of the priorities of the Guidance and Counselling Services has been to make students, parents and the public at large more aware of the services that are offered, and to find new ways of reaching out to the community. Towards this end, guidance personnel have participated in several radio and T.V. programmes, broaching subjects that are linked to both vocational and educational issues, as well as to more broadly personal ones.

 

Personal and Social Education

One of the most significant achievements of the last decade was the introduction of Personal and Social Education in the Secondary School Curriculum (see Sultana, this volume). In the National Minimum Curriculum for Secondary Schools (Legal Notice 93/1990), Personal and Social Education (P.S.E.) (then referred to as Life Skills) was included as one of the core subjects. P.S.E. was allocated two lessons in Forms I and II in the Secondary Schools and Junior Lyceums, while in 1993, it was also included in the Form III curriculum of the secondary schools. Besides its time-table allocation, P.S.E. is also covered through various programmes (such as the Growing Up Programme, the Chemical Abuse Awareness Programme, the School Girl Mothers Programme), and through Careers Seminars. With the introduction of P.S.E. in the secondary school curriculum, Guidance and Counselling Services gained a new ally because P.S.E. can in many ways be considered an extension of Guidance: while the latter deals with issues in a one-to-one situation, the former meets students in a small group setting.

 

Parenting Skills Programme

Despite the increase in the range of services offered to students by guidance teachers and counsellors, it was felt that the education of parents would consolidate the work that was being done in schools. A Parenting Skills Programme was launched in 1996, with the goal of providing opportunities for parents to share their experiences in dealing with young adolescents. Typically, the encounters were spread out over six sessions, and broached such topics as drugs, relationships, friendship, sexual education, study habits, and self-esteem.

 

Computerisation

The Guidance and Counselling Services is now about to start on a new project in its on-going upgrading programme. I am here referring to the computerisation of vocational and educational information, a project which will facilitate the dissemination of up-to-date information to students and parents via terminals in the Careers Information Room in each school.

 

VOCATIONAL AND GUIDANCE CHOICES OF MALTESE SCHOOL LEAVERS (1990-1995)

Reference has already been made to the tracer studies that the Guidance and Counselling Services have organised since 1990, with the intention of analysing the trends in educational and vocational choices of school leavers (16 year olds). In the second part of this chapter, I will provide details about the findings of a series of these surveys. Initially, and prior to 1990, a number of schools carried out their own tracer studies in order to have feedback on the destinations of their school-leavers. It was soon felt, however, that such data should be collated at a national level, in order to establish trends and variations on the basis of gender, region, and so on. Each school was therefore requested to compile its own data, and the information was put together in such a way as to facilitate the analysis of trends in the choice of options, and to make connections between these and employment trends and opportunities in the Maltese economy.

 

The General Trends in Educational and Vocational Choices of Maltese 16 year-olds

The general trends emanating from the Tracer Study show that for the years 1990-95, nearly two thirds (between 56 and 63 per cent) of Maltese school leavers opted for post-secondary education. Although this percentage seems, prima facie, quite high, it still falls short of levels achieved in economically advanced countries like the U .S .A., Japan and most European Union countries.

Over the last six years, an average of nearly 60 per cent of all school leavers have been selecting further education after completion of compulsory education, while nearly a quarter are opting for work and another 15 per cent are still undecided at the time of the collation of data (i.e. October of each year). This latter category is here identified as 'other' (Table 1). This last option would probably have been determined by failure at school leaving examinations and,

 

Table 1:Results of Tracer Studies held between 1990 and 1995

 

 

EDUCATION

 

WORK

 

OTHER

 

 

 

TOTAL

 

%

 

TOTAL

 

%

 

TOTAL

 

%

 

1990

 

1961

 

56

 

1102

 

31

 

353

 

10

 

1991

 

2554.

 

63

 

1081

 

27

 

479

 

10

 

1992

 

2653

 

60

 

1237

 

27

 

599

 

13

 

1993

 

2652

 

60

 

1085

 

25

 

627

 

14

 

1994

 

2652

 

60

 

1085

 

25

 

' 627

 

14

 

1995

 

2734

 

58

 

1318

 

28

 

643

 

14

 

hence, students would not be fully qualified for entry into their preferred educational course. It is also likely that no suitable job would have been offered to them by October. In most cases, these youngsters would still attend 'private tuition classes' to upgrade their academic qualifications and/or register for work at the Employment and Training Corporation.

This general trend has been consistent over the six year period although absolute figures have changed, sometimes in a significant manner. This is particularly true with regards to the education option, which rose from 1961 (in 1990) to 2734 (in 1995). This difference in absolute figures is due to the higher response rate from students to this survey.

 

Options by Gender

Overall, each consecutive Tracer Study has shown that more male students than females opt for further education. This can be seen clearly in Tables 2,3 and 4 below.

The 1995 figures reveal contrasting trends. An 11 per cent gap exists in the education option because the female population in the secondary school, other Secondary schools and trade schools will be more inclined to start work as early as possible as they find very little motivation for further education.

 

Table 2: School-Leavers' Destinations

 

 

EDUCATION

 

WORK

 

OTHER

 

 

 

TOTAL

 

%

 

TOTAL

 

%

 

TOTAL

 

%

 

FEMALES

 

1206

 

52

 

754

 

32

 

346

 

15

 

MALES

 

1485

 

63

 

592

 

25

 

302

 

11

 

 

Table 3: Female School-Leavers' Destinations, According to School Sectors

SECTOR

 

POP

 

REPLIES

 

EDUCATION

 

WORK

 

OTHERS

 

 

 

 

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

JL

 

962

 

959

 

100

 

691

 

72

 

178

 

19

 

90

 

9

 

SS

 

668

 

629

 

94

 

112

 

18

 

363

 

58

 

154

 

24

 

PS

 

559

 

538

 

96

 

399

 

74

 

58

 

10

 

50

 

9

 

TS

 

127

 

112

 

88

 

4

 

3

 

89

 

79

 

17

 

18

 

oss

 

105

 

101

 

97

 

-

 

-

 

66

 

65

 

35

 

35

 

TOT

 

2421

 

2339

 

97

 

1206

 

52

 

754

 

32

 

346

 

15

 

Note: JL = Junior Lyceums, SS = Area Secondary Schools, PS = Private Schools, TS = Trade Schools, OSS = Opportunity Secondary Schools.

 

The jobs which they feel are suited for their abilities, aptitudes and expectations -such as salespersons, waiters and machine operators - do not, as yet, require any specialised pre-service training. The males - even the lower achievers -still feel the need for further and vocational training, especially through the apprenticeship route.

If we look at the other options available to students, we note that it is only in the private schools sector that there is a preponderance of males over females that opt for work. In all the other sectors, females surpass quite significantly

 

Table 4: Male School-Leavers' Destinations, According to School Sectors

SECTOR

 

POP

 

REPLIES

 

EDUCATION

 

WORK

 

OTHERS

 

 

 

 

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

JL

 

628

 

663

 

96

 

452

 

75

 

70

 

12

 

82

 

4

 

SS

 

247

 

243.

 

98

 

76

 

31

 

99

 

40

 

68

 

28

 

PS

 

860

 

781

 

91

 

627

 

80

 

101

 

13

 

57

 

7

 

TS

 

780

 

726

 

93

 

330

 

45

 

312

 

43

 

88

 

12

 

OSS

 

18

 

17

 

95

 

-

 

-

 

10

 

59

 

7

 

41

 

TOT

 

2533

 

2370

 

94

 

1485

 

63

 

592

 

25

 

302

 

11

 

the males in their choice of work. As to the option here referred to as 'other', we notice the relatively high percentage of secondary school leavers (24 per cent females and 28 per cent males) who have not yet settled down by October. Both the labour market and the post-secondary school sector do not seem to offer the right opportunities to this relatively large group of students.

 

Options by Sectors

From the 1995 Tracer Study, we can conclude that Junior Lyceum and Private Schools students (i.e. the more academically achieving) have, in their very great majority, i.e. 75 and 78 per cent respectively, opted for further education. This option confirms the expectations that teachers and parents have of these groups. Indeed, in this sector we find whole classes who proceed to the further education sector. In the secondary sector, where academic expectations and achievements are generally lower, only a minority (21 per cent) proceed to further education. However, the overall picture changes significantly in the Trade School Sector (comprising Trade Schools and co-educational trade schools) where 45 and 39 per cent of students proceed to further education by way of apprenticeship schemes. Apprenticeship is a culturally attractive option for these students, as it enhances their basic trade training, thus giving them more specialised skills in their trade and better employment prospects.

 

Table 5: Total Students' Options by Sector

SECTOR

 

POP

 

REPLIES

 

EDUCATION

 

WORK

 

OTHERS

 

 

 

 

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

TOT

 

%

 

JL

 

1590

 

1562

 

98

 

1143

 

75

 

248

 

16

 

172

 

11

 

SS

 

915

 

872

 

95

 

188

 

21

 

462

 

53

 

222

 

25

 

PS

 

1419

 

1319

 

93

 

1026

 

78

 

159

 

12

 

197

 

10

 

TS

 

780

 

726

 

93

 

330

 

45

 

312

 

43

 

88

 

12

 

OSS

 

123

 

118

 

96

 

-

 

-

 

76

 

64

 

42

 

36

 

CETS

 

124

 

120

 

97

 

47

 

39

 

61

 

51

 

12

 

19

 

TOT

 

4951

 

4717

 

95

 

2734

 

58

 

1318

 

28

 

643

 

14

 

It is significant that in the other Secondary Schools, where students are considered as low-achievers, there was a nil response to further education. One of the main reasons for such a poor choice is the fact that there are not, as yet, any post-secondary courses that cater for this type of student.

 

Options by Course

Of all the educational choices expressed by our respondents, 82 per cent opte for academic courses because these led to University education or to white collar jobs which are still considered quite prestigious in the Maltese social status structure. The preponderance of females over males in the academic choice contrasts sharply with the opposite preponderance of males over females in the technical area. Females still shy away from technical careers but compare better with males in the vocational field because this includes service jobs like tourism, the health sector, kindergarten teaching, hairdressing, and secretarial studies. It must be said that tradition still plays a significant part in the career choices of Maltese youngsters.

 

Table 6: Options by Course and Gender

CATEGORY

 

POPULATION

 

ACADEMIC

 

TECHNICAL

 

VOCATIONAL

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

%

 

Total

 

%

 

Total

 

%

 

Females

 

691

 

598

 

86

 

2

 

1

 

91

 

13

 

Males

 

452

 

343

 

75

 

79

 

17

 

30

 

7

 

 

 

1143

 

941

 

82

 

81

 

7

 

121

 

11

 

 

Work Options

In 1995, a total of 1318 students (736 females and 582 males) opted to work after completing their compulsory school course. The jobs available for such students were mainly in the unskilled employment sector offering limited career prospects, since these youngsters entered the labour market without any preparatory specialised vocational training. The most popular jobs available for these students were salespersons, machine operators, waiter/catering work, trades person and junior clerks. Such jobs offer these early entrants into the labour market a quick opportunity to earn money and thus to achieve their financial independence. With the economy operating at what amounts to near full-employment level, such jobs - which probably have a high employee turnover - offered these students a good opportunity to commence their working life.

A sector-by-sector analysis of the work options shows that the more academically achieving students, namely those coming from Junior Lyceums and Private Schools, generally opt for clerical and sales work; secondary school and trade school students opt mainly for machine operator work and trades, while a fair number from all categories opt for catering work.

 

Other Options

In order to get as detailed a picture as possible of the vocational and educational choices of Maltese 16 year olds, the Tracer Study also looked into the 'other' options taken besides the more clear cut choices of either work or further education. A significant proportion of the 16 year olds (i.e. 14 per cent) fail to enter the labour market or proceed to further education mainly because they are not qualified enough for the particular course of their choice, or they have not yet found a job which they feel fits their abilities, aptitudes and expectations. Such students from Junior Lyceums and Private Schools would have failed their school leaving examinations, and would have opted to take private tuition in a few subjects so that they could then either enter further education the following year, or get enough paper qualifications to be eligible for some public service entry examination. The students from Trade and Secondary Schools would have probably registered for work at the Employment and Training Corporation.

 

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

This chapter has provided a brief overview of the activities of Malta's Guidance and Counselling Services, and has shown how, over the past decade, it has built on the initiatives taken since 1974, and extended them to include other guidance-related functions. Among the latter has been research into the occupational and educational paths taken by school-leavers. Such information, and complementary data collected through other research projects co-ordinated by the Guidance and Counselling division, identify overall patterns and help the educational sector adapt its services to better serve students, and to prepare them more effectively for the employment opportunities offered by a constantly changing labour market.

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