Malta: Should Maltese be a requisite for entry to University?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Oct 5 12:21:16 UTC 2006

Maltese O level

Should Maltese be a requisite for entry to University?

Year in, year out, lower pass rates in MATSEC examinations send the
pundits into a muddled frenzy calling for the head of the subjects which
our poor students do not excel in. The English and Maltese languages are
the likely victims, and the state is called on to be a bigger nanny, and
save its citizens from the perils of an ordinary level test of their
proficiency in the languages they most frequently use. Rather than shy
away from the challenge by advocating a scenario where these two languages
are no longer an entry requirement for University, one should rather
investigate the general state of our educational system, a colonial
hang-up which has never come of age as a national structure that caters
for its peoples needs, aspirations and identity, and which mutates
steadily into a controversial patchwork of whimsical add-ons, dictated by
politics, personal whims, or superficial impressions of what economy
dictates. From the Mintoffian numerus clausus to the still faint (but for
how longer?) smart (sic) and hi-tech echoes prompted by the appointment of
a rector-manager, our educational system has been continuously missing the
wood for the trees, as do many uninformed opinion-makers who taint their
delivery with a personal agenda that reeks of class, privilege, and
unresolved private dilemmas.

The entry requirements for University (from ordinary level to intermediate
and advanced) can be viewed as the sample necessary to prove that the
freshmen possesses the minimum skills and aptitudes required to follow a
course in advanced education. A basic knowledge of the national languages,
a foreign language, and a general idea of fields of knowledge ranging from
the humanities to science and economics. These certificates prove not only
intellectual capability, but even citizenry and nationhood, being Maltese
while at the same time a global citizen with the tools to face the
challenges of superior knowledge. Any attempt at dumbing down the
intellectual obstacles students must face is a denigration of the
University institution, intellectual tradition, and the individual.
Notorious cases like the year when Maltese was removed as a requirement
for the law course, but reinstated the next year, are a clear example of a
prevalence of personal agendas over a wish for real educational change.
Similarly, the year in year out doubts on the need of Maltese (and
English, as surprisingly proposed by a columnist extolling the merits of
the patois she was raised to speak) are equally absurd and motivated by a
dangerous lack of knowledge. The question proposed by the newspaper should
never be asked in a modern society and a normal country, confident and at
peace with its own past and identity, and looking forward with
determination to the future. As symbols of our nationhood and identity,
Maltese and English deserve the greatest institutional respect, beyond
immediate economic concerns but for their value-added (which has now also
become an economic buzzword).

The vicissitudes our two languages have gone through should be a matter of
the past, when one considers the advantages bestowed to us by English
being an official, widely spoken and understood language, and Maltese, our
only beacon of identity which has finally found its rightful place as an
official language of the European Union.

Mark Vella is a translator for the Maltese unit at the European
Commission, Luxembourg


Instead of celebrating this fact we are still dividing ourselves by
language. Anyone who suggests, as I have done, that either Maltese or
English could be used as language passes to enter university is deemed as
somehow less of a patriot. In fact when I wrote about this subject
recently, most of the letters written to the editors of The Malta
Independent were against allowing this, but most of the private emails I
received were overwhelmingly in favour. People in twenty-first century
Malta are literally afraid to let their opinion be known publicly on this
issue which is a shame.

The fact is that the Maltese MATSEC is, or has become incredibly tough and
tedious. This year the pass rate was abysmal. Children with one foreign
parent in Malta find it almost impossible to pass this exam, or they spend
a lifetime in private lessons to cope. This is only good for those who
give private lessons! This is a subject for another article, but the fact
that so many kids go to private lessons in all subjects is a national
disgrace. It doesnt show our kids are dumb. It shows the exams are
ridiculously tough. It is our one badge of shame in our education system
where plenty of excellent things have happened, and are happening, that
private lessons are today the norm, and not the exception.

Meanwhile foreigners can enter University without a pass in Maltese. Those
minority Maltese parents who are well off enough are simply sending their
children abroad to study. Most of us cannot do this and perhaps do not
even want to. I recently met a student who is going to study astrophysics
abroad, is a brilliant student overall, but because of spending time
abroad and having one foreign parent had not learnt Maltese. It seems
amazing that a straight A science student would be denied entry to our
University because she cannot pass her Maltese MATSEC while the foreigner
can enter? Our loss dont you think?  Essentially the two-language policy
of this country has failed. The majority cannot, and do not write and
speak both languages well. Until this is addressed we should not deny our
kids the opportunity to have a University education. Menglish is

I think we should be proud of our whole Malteseness. Some of us speak a
language from our Arab colonisers. Others from our English ones. Both are
our languages today and we should try to improve the standards of both,
while acknowledging that those brought up speaking one or the other will,
quite naturally, be more proficient in one or the other. Both sides are
Maltese though, and not ghar-rimi! No, I dont believe anyone should be
denied a University education because they cant reach a high standard in
both our languages. Surely we should allow our students to enter
University with a pass in either Maltese or English? We also need to make
ALL our MATSC exams far less heavy, as they mainly only test the ability
to regurgitate mounds of often never to be used again information.  I hope
sense prevails and nationalism does not take precedence over fairness and
common sense.

Marisa Micallef is the chairperson of the Housing Authority and a
newspaper columnist


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