Developing students' values
Maltese students are not 'taught Personal and Social Development' but, through activities such as games, role play, photo-language, discussions, they are led to learning outcomes and conclusions.
PSD in Malta has developed in a unique way, in that it was not imposed as a policy, but gained ground as people started understanding its positive effects.
The mission statement of the PSD syllabus states that 'PSD aims at empowering students to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes which will enable them to live and participate fruitfully and effectively in their environment.'
PSD in Malta has strong democratic roots and embraces empowerment at every stage of learning. PSD encourages students to arrive at their own value system. However, it still promotes universal positive values, such as respect for self and others, diversity, critical thinking, problem solving and democracy.
The Maltese educational system recognised from the very start of the implementation of PSD that this subject should support and empower students to develop their own views on values in society and their responsibilities in their own lives.
Furthermore, experiential learning and processing - a technique borrowed from the counselling field and adapted to group growth and learning in PSD sessions, are the basic techniques used by PSD specialists.
In short, PSD involves the abstraction of the world around us - the way we informally learn beyond and without an institutionalised context. As a consequence, PSD sessions are held in groups of not more than 15 students. Classrooms are arranged in a circular or horse-shoe formation, so that participants can view each other and PSD specialists balance time and attention to individual participants.
As one 12-year-old put it: 'During PSD, I can at least say what I think without being punished. I know that the PSD teacher will try to listen to me and understand what I am really trying to say and help me say it better. This makes me feel safe... If she wants to make a rule, she asks you for your opinion. The others say - if you don't like it, patience.'
In an ideal situation, PSD should not even be timetabled as a subject, but should be practised throughout and at all times within the school environment. This, however, is far from the reality in our highly competitive educational system. The needs of our country have led us to develop PSD into what it is today.
This does not mean we do not continuously strive to ensure that PSD should also be a whole-school approach. It should not only be a whole-school approach, but become a way of life. It is not enough that pupils experience PSD in timetabled weekly slots as PSD cannot be effective if in a vacuum.
The Council of Europe notes that 'while the aims and content of citizenship education may be highly diversified, three key themes are of particular interest: (a) political literacy, (b) critical thinking and the development of certain attitudes and values and (c) active participation.'
With the recent enlargement of the EU, the concept of democracy and citizenship have become increasingly important on national political agendas, and more so in Malta as a member state. There is a need to help students develop a positive civic attitude. In the interests of a common European identity, pupils need to understand what a 'good' citizen is, and understand the rights as well as duties this entails.
In the UK, PSD is to become compulsory in schools from September 2010 following lobbying of politicians by the association.
To date, PSD is still a fragmented subject, not only due to different or non-existent practices in schools, but also due to the mushrooming of different names for the subject.
Last October, we delivered a presentation on PSD in Malta at a seminar held by the British National PSE Association for Advisors Inspectors and Consultants.
The participants were eager to understand the way our students experience PSD.
Our presentation was warmly received and the participants were extremely appreciative of the Maltese PSD model. They also valued our use of the acronym PSD as a common comprehensive encompassing name to identify the subject and create more awareness regarding its importance and value.
Ms Falzon and Ms Muscat are initial teacher trainers for PSD professionals at University.
Ms Falzon is a lecturer at the University's Department of Psychology. She coordinates PSD teacher-training programmes and courses.
Ms Muscat was one of the first teachers to introduce PSD in the classroom and later coordinated counselling services in Church schools. For the past 15 years, she has been lecturing at University in personal development and PSD methodology.