Going to school
Just like Ireland, Malta is a popular destination for young people who want to study English. A pleasant climate, lots of beaches and a busy night life ? they all contribute to the attraction Malta has on language students from across Europe. The Maltese themselves start learning English as soon as they start going to primary school. State schools offer it as a subject, while English is even the main language of education in private schools. Compared to continental European education, the Maltese system has some interesting features. Keep reading to know more:
School starts at the age of three when children go to kindergarden. After that, they go to primary school which can be either a government school, a private one or a religious one. Up until the age of 11, boys and girls are in mixed classes. Things change for most of them when they go to secondary school. With a few exceptions, all schools are either boys-only or girls-only. Every school has its own uniform, which comes in different versions: a regular one for regular days and a sports ones for whenever physical education is on the agenda.
`Many Maltese kids go to schools that are run by priests and nuns`
Boys schools, girls schools
I am surprised to find out that most of the young people I talk to are happy about the gender-specific secondary school. Patrick (21) thinks he would have been well distracted if he was in a mixed gender secondary school. Also, he sees no link whatsoever between the high teenage pregnancy rates and the fact that boys and girls are suddenly exposed to each other at the age of 17, while having lived almost separately for all of their adolescence. `I think that`s due to deficient sexual education. At least, I remember there wasn`t much of that when I was in school`, Patrick says.
Lucienne (23) thinks the separation kept her concentrated on her studies. `And we could talk freely without having to bother about the boys interfering`. Lucienne did mind that whenever she had to wear her sporty uniform, it would always be for the entire day. `There was no time for taking showers, so everybody just quickly washed at the taps and then slid into the same uniform again. That was quite uncomfortable, especially in hot weather`, she explains.
Clayton (22, photo) explains me that secondary school is the same for everybody, regardless of intellectual level: `It`s five years, and for the diploma it doesn`t even matter what type of school you go to. State, private or church, they are all supposed to educate at the same level. Private schools are commonly accepted to provide a better preparation for third level education, but officially speaking there is no difference. Church schools are obviously more into religion and some of the teachers may be priests and nuns.`
Clayton also explains me that a secondary school diploma alone is not sufficient to access university: `Compare it to O-levels in Britain. If you want to go to university, you first need to get your A-levels. In Malta, you can do that by following two years of sixth form, which is the preparation to university. Or you can attend vocational education, which is what I did. I am at MCAST, which is an institute that prepares you for insertion into professional life. To me, doing MCAST was more useful than taking the scientific route. I cared more about finding a job than about obtaining a degree. Apart from that, entrance exams at the beginning of university put a severe restriction who gets in and who doesn`t. I didn`t, so in MCAST was at the same time my only option.`
According to the statistics, most Maltese pupils think about university in a similar way. A year spent in school is a year wasted, would reflect the way many Maltese people think about studying. Claude (28) partially explains why: `I work as an accounted in a normal job. But if I were an independent plumber for example, I would probably make more money than I do now by being an employee. In many cases, it`s more advisable to learn a craft than a science.`
Opinions about that seem to be divided. David (21) thinks that getting a job without having a related diploma is very difficult. Which may be true if getting a job in Malta depended solely on skills, but unfortunately for some, it doesn`t. Knowing the right people is more important, and the earlier you get to know the right people, the better. In that perspective, going to university might not be the best option if you are not into following a strictly scientific path, or want to exercise a profession that legally requires the appropriate certification. Another situation in which people are likely to abandon the educational process is when they get married and/or have babies. Which usually happens at relatively young age in Malta. 21 to 23 would be a perfectly normal age for either of the two.
Massimo (26) agrees with the idea that pupils and students are under a great deal of pressure to integrate professional life as early as they can. `There is no time to look around and have fun. Everybody is supposed to be spit out of the system as quickly as they can. Few people take time off to travel or to follow their dreams. Nobody allows you to slow down during the process. That`s also one of the reasons why the Nationalist Party fiercely opposes Labour plans to add another year to children`s school curriculum before they join primary school. Literacy rates in Malta are not too impressively high, and according to Labour, this problem is due to improper preparation for children accessing primary school. The Nationalist Party rejects the idea, and say it will be like having all children repeat a year, which translates into nothing more than loss of time.`
International programs between secondary schools or even universities have not been very usual until recently. Joe (29) tells me that he learnt quite a lot about Europe, but none of neither his school nor his university ever proposed him an excursion outside of Malta.
Another example of the appreciation of speed in the education process is the stipendium, a monthly grant which is paid to students who make it to university throughout the duration of their studies. It`s well worth to study hard, because repeating a year would mean the government grant is cancelled. Since many students live with there parents, they could still continue their studies that are free of charge anyway ? but nobody would advise somebody to skip a year or spend it elsewhere.
There are some more things worth noting about the Maltese school system. First of all, the country has an elaborate system of school buses which collect children from fixed pick-up points and drops them off at school.
Secondly, there was a time when Arabic was a compulsory subject, sometime in the early 1980s. It is not anymore and few Maltese still speak it nowadays as anything Arab is generally regarded with suspicion. However, the Maltese language is sufficiently similar to Arabic that Arabs should be able to understand the Maltese quite well. The reverse order is more difficult: Maltese people are not very likely to understand Arabic without studying it.
Thirdly and finally, languages make up a big chunk of the education program. Many pupils take German, Italian, French or Spanish as a third language, even though few of them will ever practice it abroad. It may come handy when welcoming the tourists to the island, which is enough of a motivation for them to stick to their multilingual tradition. The disadvantage of that is similar to what I noticed in Luxembourg: few people have a real language `of their own` in which they can perfectly express themselves. Generalisation means loss in the details, but for any foreigner visiting Malta it will be more likely to be a blessing: Maltese, with it`s barred H`s and dotted G`s, is close to illegible for any non-Maltese European.
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