Cortes outlines ‘once in a lifetime’ shift to co-education
A smooth transition to co-educational secondary schools will have wider benefits attuned to society, Education and Environment Minister Dr John Cortes said, adding that single-gender schools reflected “past societies and their values”.
Dr Cortes was explaining the thinking behind the forthcoming shift to mixed-gender schools, which he described as a “once in a lifetime” change in Gibraltar’s education system.
The move follows the recommendations of a working group tasked with analysing whether a change would be beneficial for local youngsters and society as a whole.
“The working party believes that education should be much wider than the purely academic, and the educational environment should reflect reality as it is: that is to say males and females going about their lives socially and at work, side by side,” Dr Cortes said.
“It should nurture in children, from the very onset and throughout their schooling, belief in the self-evident fact that, although not the same, men and women are equal.”
“This should also help them develop social skills with ease as they interact with members of the other gender on a daily basis under the supervision of their teachers.”
Schools, Dr Cortes added, should be more than “mere examination factories obsessed with examination results”.
“Education is an open-ended process which works largely through conversation, example and relationships,” he said.
The working group concluded that co-education was the best model in order to help youngsters to become valued – and valuable - members of the community, and to give them the best grounding for adult life.
“Education should lead children to seek and uphold the truth, to be critical and to be able to discriminate positively, to be respectful of others and of the environment,” he said.
“It should encourage interaction with others to arrive at informed, committed action.” “It is an ongoing cognitive, emotional and social process; a process of living in which the end is not the important factor, but the process itself.”
The working group was composed of the Director of Education, Darren Grech; Michelle Barabich, Headteacher Westside; Michael Tavares, Headteacher Bayside; Kenneth Saez, Headteacher St Bernard's Middle; Dympna Holmes, SEO at the Department of Education; Stuart Borastero, GTA President), and parents Angelique Linares and Steven Reyes.
In parallel to this major change, the government will push ahead with construction of a new St Martin’s School, Notre Dame School, St Anne's School, Governor’s Meadow School, Bishop’s Fitzgerald School, Bayside and Westside.
“Already a strong and dedicated team is hard at work in preparing these ambitious but perfectly achievable projects, which will be carried out avoiding disruption to the students,” Dr Cortes said.
“As you can imagine it will involve careful planning to execute, and stakeholders, especially the teaching profession, will be fully and intimately involved in planning and rolling out these changes.”
The government will also review the 1974 Education and Training Act, which is “absolutely out of date”.
Addressing his environment portfolio, Dr Cortes flagged an 88% increase in recycling rates overall, reflecting the success of the eco-park.
This includes an increase in cardboard and paper recycling by 120% and a 600% increase in waste oil recycling.
“In the light of this, the government expects this year to achieve total self-sufficiency in the handling of urban solid waste, which will avoid a return to incineration,” he said.
Dr Cortes said the government remained “fully committed” to a sewage treatment plant and is about to enter detailed discussions with the selected provider with a view to achieving completion within the next 30 months.
He also highlighted the government’s targets to reduce emissions and insisted air quality in Gibraltar was the best it had been since records began 12 years ago, “and probably the best for decades.”
Dr Cortes revealed that a contract has been awarded to “an experienced contractor” for the upkeep and maintenance of the planted areas of the cemetery.
Discussions with the contractor are advanced and work is due to start on August 1. A maintenance programme has been prepared by the Department of the Environment in consultation with the Botanic Gardens, who have provided their input pro bono.
This will ensure that areas of vegetation are maintained and not allowed to become overgrown and create problems of access to visitors.
There will also be a programme of planting of shrubs that are attractive and can survive the sometimes harsh conditions of the site.
On public health, Dr Cortes said a strategic prevention plan would be drawn up to tackle the “emerging and serious problem” of childhood obesity.