Tribalism in Maltese politics is nothing new, but the behavior of students during Thursday’s debate between party leaders shocked many. Chants of “Robert, Robert” and “Viva l-Labour” drowned out the speeches throughout, as Robert Abela smiled like a Hollywood star in the spotlight.
This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg.
The debate was indicative of several deeply rooted issues in Maltese politics and society as a whole.
Independent candidates and small parties were excluded from speaking because they do not present candidates from each constituency. While there is indeed less chance of an audience member living in their neighborhood, their voice should have been considered.
It is also difficult not to notice the lack of female speakers, five of the Maltese parties being led by men. This was evidenced in the anti-choice stance of parties (with the exception of the ADPD), rooted in misogyny.
Nevertheless, the biggest problem highlighted in this debate was the lack of critical thinking of the students present, with the chants and boos from all sides reflecting the lows of our education system.
It should be noted that the academic debate has become an armed partisan tool, with the PNPL sympathizing with the students brought in by the entire bus as a show of force.
This is, in itself, a reflection of the current educational system. The lack of encouragement to think critically leads students to be indoctrinated by the media and the political parties themselves.
This is only reinforced by the Pulse and SDM student groups, which for many are the first mention of politics in a school system.
Educational institutions should foster creativity and encourage students to form informed opinions, but the reality is that students flow through the system unconsciously consuming information.
Schools actively avoid discussing potentially controversial issues, with politics remaining a taboo subject. It’s no wonder, then, that students echo the ever-familiar tribal values without stopping to think.
These young people are the product of a failing education system that continues to disappoint its students.
A system that actively discourages critical thinking leaves no room for students to grow into well-rounded adults. The students present at the debate are the result of their parents, friends and family, who have been abandoned by this same system and left vulnerable to indoctrination.
Obviously, the education system is not working.
Schools teach us to be quiet and follow orders, only preparing us for a monotonous job market. The lack of stimulation extends into higher education, with many university students remaining silent or even oblivious to pressing issues.
This detachment from reality was only reinforced by the euphoric chants of students interrupting a discussion of the ongoing war in Ukraine. In this same debate, Cacopardo referred to the lack of critical thinking of today’s student population and said that education should be a tool to strengthen social justice.
One then has to wonder how education can possibly reinforce social justice when most have no idea what social justice entails.
Students and young people are left to their own devices in this regard, often turning to available but biased information as teaching material. This leaves many students better informed about foreign policy, such as that of the United States, than about their own country.
It’s no surprise that when they come to vote, they don’t know about the system, or the policies that will directly affect their lives. When the voting age was lowered to 16, no education was given, leaving many teenagers to simply follow in their parents’ footsteps.
This inconsiderate point of view turns young people into confused adults, suddenly finding themselves thrown into a world they’ve been sheltered from with no idea how to navigate it.
It should be noted that some students go the extra mile to educate themselves, often finding help in dedicated spaces. Moviment Graffitti, as an organization, takes steps to create space for such education and critical thinking, our student-led book clubs and discussions being a prime example.
However, the task of educating people should never be left to voluntary organisations.
I vividly remember students, myself included, complaining about the lack of real-world knowledge taught in high school. Maths, English and Maltese are certainly important, but so is knowing how elections work and how to spot fake news.
Teachers and school officials were far more concerned about the color of my socks than whether I was being molded into an active citizen.
Some changes have been made in the four years since I left secondary school, with a media literacy subject now being offered at O level. But judging by the attitude of many students , there is still a lot of work to do.
This debate was another futile attempt to convince the public that changes will be made and lives will be improved. The speakers didn’t give any new information, but one point was made loud and clear: the education system needs to adapt and teach students ever-changing real-world insights.
Claria Cutajar is a member of Moviment Graffitti
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What did you think of the debate?