The Malta Independent 23 January 2020, Thursday

Academics shoot down proposal to have foreign language imposed at Sixth Form level

Thursday, 18 July 2019, 14:01 Last update: about 7 months ago

Academics have disagreed with a proposal put forward by the MATSEC board to have a foreign language imposed on students at Sixth Form level. The idea is proposed to be introduced as from 2020.

In a statement, the academics (see list below) said that the postsecondary reform proposed by MATSEC did not arise from a proper process of consultation with all stakeholders. The proposal is based on the assumption that a structural change at the postsecondary level is needed to allow students in Malta to acquire the skills they need for a society that is both Maltese and European. However, we believe that, if this proposal is implemented, it will achieve the opposite. Instead of widening opportunities, it limits them; instead of encouraging depth, it promotes superficiality.


One major weakness stands out, the academics said. The reform does not give prospective students the opportunity to acquire European cultural knowledge as well as the analytical, critical, and expressive skills they need to live, study, and work in Malta, in Europe, and in a complex global context.

As opposed to the educational experience of students in other European countries, this reform:

(i)       limits the linguistic and literary knowledge that students in Malta can acquire by focusing almost exclusively on communicative skills;

(ii)      imposes a foreign language on them at a very late stage of their education; and

(iii)     in so doing, discourages them from choosing to study their national language, Maltese, and Malta’s co-official language, English, in a holistic way.  

"While we understand the relevance of communicative skills, we believe that our education system should also help students develop more advanced, critical and expressive linguistic skills that are not simply communicative," the statement said.

MATSEC is proposing to restructure the current Systems of Knowledge subject to ‘reflect an integration of communication and cultural skills’, which includes exposure to Maltese and English in exclusively communicative contexts. The proposal does not make sufficiently clear what level students are expected to achieve through the severely limited exposure they will now have to Maltese and English. This proposal removes the emphasis on writing, on the studying of Maltese and English as languages, and on literature. This means that students will not acquire a range of fundamental skills that a sound knowledge of Malta’s official languages would give them and that would help them succeed in their studies and in their careers.


The proposal fails to outline clearly how students may still choose to study Maltese and/or English at Intermediate or Advanced level. However, it is very clear that MATSEC is drastically reducing the incentives for students to study one or both of these languages at Intermediate or Advanced level.

This means that:

i.         Rather than improving the knowledge and use of Maltese and English in Malta, this reform weakens the official languages;

ii.         Many students will not acquire crucial writing and reading skills, and they will not be exposed to literature. In the rest of Europe, literature is a key component in the learning of languages because it helps students grow their analytical, critical, creative, expressive, and emotional skills at a crucial stage in their development as individuals;

iii.       Significantly fewer students will study Maltese and English properly, even though these two languages are those the vast majority of them need in their tertiary studies, their prospective careers, and their everyday life.

We ask MATSEC to review this proposal by carrying out proper consultation and by offering a structure that truly helps students in Malta develop as citizens and workers who can prosper as individuals and as members of a community in a Maltese, European, and global context, and who can think independently and for the wellbeing of society.

In short, we believe that:

1.      There was no proper consultation with all stakeholders in the drafting of this proposal.

2.      This proposal will impose a foreign language (French, German, Spanish or Italian) very late in the students’ educational journey.

3.      This will reduce the importance of the learning of Maltese and English in Malta. Many students will thus miss out on a range of skills that are fundamental for their development.

4.      In the context of other reforms happening in the teaching and assessment of English and Maltese at secondary level, this proposal will continue to weaken the level of proficiency among students in Malta in the two official languages.   

In view of the above, the proposal should be revised after proper consultation.

Press statement issued by the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta, members of the  Department of English at the University of Malta (Dr Mario Aquilina, Dr Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone, Dr Marija Grech, Prof. Stella Borg-Barthet, Prof. Ivan Callus, Prof. James Corby, Dr Petra Caruana Dingli, Dr Giuliana Fenech, Dr Maria Frendo, Prof. Lydia Sciriha, and Prof. Peter Vassallo), the Institute of Linguistics and Language Technology at the University of Malta, the Departments of Maltese and English at the Junior College, the Departments of Maltese and English at Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary School, the Departments of Maltese and English at St Aloysius College, the Departments of Maltese and English at De La Salle College, il-Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti, l-Akkademja tal-Malti, l-Għaqda tal-Malti Università, l-Għaqda Qarrejja tal-Provi tal-Malti, l-Għaqda Poeti Maltin, the English Speaking Union, the Department of English Students Association.

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