Of education and demagoguery

OPINION: 'Muscat would not have survived a week in a better-educated country.'

 

“Democracy implies election of the corrupt few by the ignorant many,” according to Bernard Shaw. An apt summation of Malta’s current situation.

A democracy is only as effective as its education system. In ‘The Republic’, Plato describes Socrates’ dialogue with Adeimantus. Socrates argues that only thinkers are fit to captain the ship of State – not because they think, but because they seek the truth. “Those who love truth more than anything, when perfected by years of education  – to those only will you entrust the State”.

Those who entrust, however, are the people. Socrates insisted that only rational thinkers should be allowed anywhere near a vote. Letting citizens vote without proper education, to him, was as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a trireme sailing to Samos in a storm. Giving everyone the vote without linking it to education leads to demagoguery.

Demagoguery is what we witnessed when Joseph Muscat testified at the Caruana Galizia Inquiry. Here was a man who, despite overwhelming victories at the polls, failed to complete a single mandate. Muscat claimed he resigned because his chief of staff was arrested for money laundering. His star candidate Konrad Mizzi too. Muscat himself was interrogated under police caution.

He had to be asked whether he is still under investigation or on police bail before testifying. By his own admission, he has spent his own funds (or so he claims) to task a US company to check for any ongoing proceedings against him in any US district. Instead of repentance and contrition, we were regaled with megalomania and self-glorification.

“I’m not sorry I was close to businessmen. I saved many jobs” he claimed. The businessmen he was close to include Ram Tumuluri of Vitals fame who bragged he would invest €200 million and bring medical tourism to Malta. Instead, he and his collaborators escaped with €60 million of taxpayer money without a single medical tourist in sight.

Muscat’s other close businessman Hani Salah of the American University of Malta promised to revitalise the economy of the south and employ hundreds. AUM is just a shell still seeking to steal more land from the people of Cottonera.

His best friend among businessmen was Yorgen Fenech and we know where he is now. As for jobs saved, the country awaits the Moneyval judgement in trepidation as “hundreds” of workers at NetEnt gaming company are sacked – Muscat’s legacy.

Despite his treachery, the demagogue was cheered into court by some. On social media, he was hailed “the King”. Proudly he claimed, “People trusted me and they would again”. That they trusted him is not surprising – he was young, energetic, charismatic then. They were fooled with promises of transparency and meritocracy. That they would trust him again is deeply worrying. Why is somebody who conned the nation still so idolized?

Muscat knows the answer. In his own words, it is because of “the nature of our society”. He means education.  Or rather the lack of it.

The most recent EU Commission publication (Education and Training monitor 2019 – Malta), shows that 35.6% – more than one in three – of 15-year-olds underachieve in reading. They struggle to read. That is close to double the EU average.

One in five leave education early, compared to 1 in 10 for the rest of Europe.  Not because we’re not throwing money at education. As a proportion of total public expenditure, our spending is among the highest in the EU (13.9% vs 10.2% EU average). The problem is in “efficiency of spending”. In simple terms, incompetence.

The main aim of education should be to produce citizens who can understand the plethora of socio-political, cultural and economic problems but also form their own judgements. It must inculcate tolerance and courage. It must create a passion for social justice and universal brotherhood – an awareness that they are not just citizens of Malta or Europe, but of the world.

The method should allow ample scope for thinking and reflection. What we see in our educational system is excessive mechanization and indoctrination with suppression of active participation, initiative, enquiry and independent thinking even at the tertiary level.

The attempt to introduce education for democracy through Systems of Knowledge (SOK) has failed miserably. At the last MATSEC session, 2,045 students applied – 138 failed to turn up and another 477 failed the exam.  Over 30% of applicants failed to scrape a pass. Since a pass in SOK is mandatory for entry into university, more than a third were automatically excluded. Among those born in Malta, only 29% completed tertiary education in 2018 compared to 41.3% for the rest of the EU.

Of course, completing a university degree is no guarantee of a good education.  Plenty of graduates are poorly educated. We have profound thinkers and well-educated citizens who received minimal formal education. But the inability to read makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to attain a higher level of education. And the poorer the education of the population, the more likely it is for corruption to be tolerated and crooks to be celebrated.

Muscat would not have survived a week in a better-educated country, as Iceland’s experience clearly demonstrates.

He was right. “The nature of our society” is different, lucky for Labour. In a recent poll, support for Labour among those with a primary education reached a staggering 63.6%, double that for PN (29%). Among tertiary educated citizens, Labour’s support crashes by half (31.6%) and falls below PN support.

Even after widespread corruption brought down ‘the King’, Labour remains unassailable among the least educated, the group most likely to suffer as a result of corruption and bad governance.

The more the uneducated, the bigger Labour’s victory – which might explain why the education portfolio has been foisted onto somebody with no experience in the field. Justyne Caruana’s priority is to expand the Gozo university campus – that is, beating her Labour rivals at the polling booth.

The Radhakrishnan Commission (1948) concluded: “Education is the great instrument of social emancipation, by which democracy protects the spirit of equality among its members”. In Malta, the lack of it perpetuates and emboldens a kleptocracy.

In the eloquent subtlety of one of many well-educated of Muscat’s supporters: “Choke in your own blood. Joseph the King shafted you”. He certainly did, all of us.

                           
                               
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Blanche Gatt
Blanche Gatt
7 months ago

Excellent piece, thank you. The key to breaking this vicious circle (for Muscat and his cabal certainly know full well that their power lies in keeping the numbers of the uneducated high) is for a SoK (or similar) pass to be obligatory not just for university entrance, but also for being given the vote. Until that happens, Malta will continue to be vulnerable to hijack by the kind of corrupt, murderous crooks we have in government today.

Franci Darmanin
Franci Darmanin
7 months ago

Well observed. One thing though. SOK is just another learn it by heart subject. Whoever introduced it didn’t have a clue. We need to get people to think, to reason, to innovate, to not fear a challenge. We need to learn logic not memorise for exams. I’m afraid we’ve missed the bus though. It’s not happening in our lifetime for sure. Both major parties prefer it this way. Politicians don’t want a popolin that can use it’s head.

Thomas Agius
7 months ago

This is something that I’ve been preaching for the last years. Uneducated voters are the downfall of the country and democracy itself. The same reason you don’t vote for a pilot based on popularity. Some kind of “verified expertise” needs to be integrated in our system, but the bigger issue is our “Football Team Fanatics” mentality that we have for political parties.

Luciano Micallef
Luciano Micallef
7 months ago

This article is indeed full of well-observed reflections. The only manner to defeat the demagogues is by having more and more educated individuals who are capable to think independently. Sadly thinking is becoming rarer. I suggest that this article is spread and exposed so it reaches as many people as possible.

carlo
carlo
7 months ago

When there is a huge difference in the number of votes between parties, that’s a sign of great illiteracy in a country – and only the chosen few generally the corrupt millionaires and corrupt mps. will benefit as the illiterate and lazy ones will always be happy with the breadcrumbs.

Salvu Felice-Pace
Salvu Felice-Pace
7 months ago
Reply to  carlo

An article that calls a spade a spade. But is anybody listening or taking note? Only a minority with the ability to analyse and think.

Joe
Joe
7 months ago

I was always and is still my belief that PL’s strongest advantage is the people’s ignorance or the lack of the educated capacity to notice, think, analyze and decide objectively. I add another quotation from one of the most notorious persons of the last century, Adolf Hitler, who said that “It is the great fortune of politicians that people are ignorant”. How true.

Peter Vella
Peter Vella
7 months ago

Just remember the harsh battle conducted by KMB against Church
schools. This was the epitome of Labour thinking. Not withstanding all the efforts to avoid finding ourselves in this situation, the fruits of the KMB era are unashamedly haunting us today..

pierre schembri-wismayer
pierre schembri-wismayer
7 months ago

When education ministers ( of both sides) start investing in education methods and in paying teachers rather than in building schools, Malta will have a chance

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 months ago

The clarity of argument from this piece brings home exactly why the state of affairs in Malta has become such. Excellent writing.

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