Participation in adult education and lifelong learning

Participation rates in adult education centres are increasing in Malta, with subjects such as handicrafts, computing, and arts and humanities representing the most popular areas of study. This is the main finding of a 2005 survey on adult education and lifelong learning in Malta, conducted by the National Statistics Office.

On 9 December 2005, the National Statistics Office (NSO) issued a news release detailing the development of adult education and lifelong learning in Malta since 1999. In recent years, the Maltese government has put adult education high on its political agenda, as stipulated in the National Reform Programme setting out Malta’s strategy for growth and jobs (1.28Mb PDF).

Nevertheless, participation rates in lifelong learning activities are still low in Malta: in 2005, only 5.8% of Maltese people aged between 25 and 64 years participated in education and training courses, compared with an average of 10.8% in the EU (European Commission, Progress towards the Lisbon objectives in education and training (3.2Mb PDF), 2006, p. 5).

About the survey

The 2005 study examined the participation rates of Maltese citizens in evening courses offered by both the public and private sectors. It reviewed participation rates in 63 adult education centres on the islands of Malta and Gozo in 2003; of these, 27 centres were privately run and 36 were public education centres.

In terms of methodology, data was derived from a census carried out among the adult and evening education centres, as listed in the database available at the Government Education Division. The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) and the University of Malta were not included in this study.

Survey findings

Type of centre attended

Most of the education centres recorded significant increases in attendance levels between 2002 and 2004 (Table 1). Overall, public education centres experienced the highest increase in students (70.8%) and had by far the largest number of students (6,824) in 2004. These centres offer a wide variety of courses, which are particularly beneficial to people in the labour market.

Only the School of Music and the University of the Third Age witnessed a decline in student participation rates, losing 9.8% and 8.7% of students respectively over the period 2002–2004.

Table 1: Student participation rates in education centres, 2002–2004
Student participation rates in education centres, 2002–2004
  2002 2003 2004 Change 2002–2004
  No. No. No. %
Public centres – evening classes 3,995 6,600 6,824 70.8
Private centres – evening classes 2,777 3,186 3,826 37.8
School of art 1,035 1,042 1,431 38.3
Drama centres 468 550 706 50.9
University of the Third Age 769 709 702 -8.7
Adult literacy classes 900 1,281 1,125 25.0
School of Music 912 1,094 823 -9.8

Source: Adapted from NSO news release, No.266/2005, December 2005

Age and gender profile of students

Adult education courses are most popular among people aged 40 years and over, with 4,346 persons in this age group participating in evening classes. In all, over 53% of course participants are women. This may be explained by the fact that Malta has a very low female labour market participation rate; therefore, women may have more free time to pursue adult education. However, a large number of men aged between 31 and 39 years (1,303 men, or 8% of all those participating in adult education) attend evening classes at public education centres, which may be directly linked to their employment objectives.

Choice of subjects

Looking at the subject areas, handicrafts represent the most popular subject among the courses provided by the public education centres. In particular, women aged over 40 years are most likely to choose this course as a leisure activity. A similar trend is noticeable in the field of personal care, nutrition and fitness. On the other hand, computing, which has become an essential part of work activities in today’s labour market, is very popular among both women and men of all ages. Arts and humanities are mostly chosen by those under 40 years old. Engineering and engineering trades, which are employment-focused subjects, remain male-dominated areas of study.

Table 2: Most popular subjects among public evening classes, by sex
Most popular subjects among public evening classes, by sex and for the combined total
  Men   Women   Total  
  No. % No. % No. %
Handicrafts 51 2 1,332 37 1,383 20
Computing 675 21 471 13 1,146 17
Arts and humanities 414 13 695 19 1,109 16
Personal care, nutrition and fitness 178 6 707 19 885 13
Engineering and engineering trades 394 12 13 0 407 6
Other 1,466 46 428 12 1,894 28
Total 3,178 100 3,646 100 6,824 100

Source: Adapted from NSO news release, No.266/2005, December 2005


This study shows that adult education is becoming increasingly popular in Malta, with more Maltese people pursuing further studies in a variety of subject areas. As a result, the Maltese government will need to develop a coherent system of competence standards in relation to vocational education and training, since workers currently do not always receive proper recognition for their adult education courses.

Manwel Debono and Christine Farrugia, Centre for Labour Studies




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