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School that’s making a name for itself

Mary Attard, headmistress of Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary in Naxxar.

Mary Attard, headmistress of Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary in Naxxar.

The Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary in Naxxar is not a school for weak students but an educational institution where “students are not numbers”, its head Mary Attard insists.

The absolute majority of them do succeed in their studies and go on to university and attain their degrees

The policy of having classrooms of not more than 26 students allows lecturers to give their students individual attention, a commodity in limited supply in some other post-secondary educational institutions.

The school has had the unfortunate reputation of catering to weak students because the majority of those who attend have a missing O level or two for entry to sixth form. In fact, the school’s mission statement is to give these students “another opportunity” to attend sixth form.

Although Ms Attard believes there still exists some stigma surrounding the school, students and parents are realising the situation has changed and more students are choosing this school over other post secondary institutions such as the Junior College, she says.

In fact, figures for the last scholastic year show that nearly three-quarters of those who were following A Matriculation Certificate course at the higher secondary were fully qualified to attend a “proper” sixth form.

These chose to further their studies in Naxxar precisely because of the individual attention afforded to students and the level of education offered at the school, the proud headmistress told The Times in an interview.

The present requirements to start the two-year pre-University course is six O levels on one certificate, including English, Maltese, mathematics, a science subject (chemistry, biology or physics) and any other two subjects.

Of the 1,100 students following a Matriculation Course at Giovanni Curmi last year, 800 were “fully qualified” while the rest had a missing O level. The minimum entry requirement for the upper secondary is two O levels. Students get a stipend, although this depends on which course they follow.

Ms Attard explains that although the school caters mainly for those who have a missing subject at O level, it offers a variety of courses. These include the revision course for those who did not pass in just one or two subjects at O level; the “normal” post secondary course for two A levels, three intermediate levels and systems of knowledge, known as the Matriculation Certificate course; a specific course of three advanced level subjects aimed at those students who need three A levels to attend a university course abroad; and what is known as an AIO course, offering students subjects at advanced, intermediate and ordinary level in one course.

“We are a sixth form with a difference because we offer courses for a wide range of students, tailor-made according to their requirements.” She says it is quite a headache to plan lessons during the summer months to cater for these different needs.

She believes the school “is making a name for itself”.

“What people find difficult to understand is that failing in one O level does not mean that the student is weak. We have students here who have the determination and the absolute majority of them do succeed in their studies and go on to university and attain their degrees,” she says, while admitting that “the words ‘higher secondary’ in our school’s name certainly do not help”.

From a mere 400 students in the 1970s, when this post-secondary school was opened, its population has surpassed the 2,000 mark, forcing it to expand.

The school has 180 lecturers teaching in 40 lecture rooms, besides the different laboratories and the tutorial rooms. By the beginning of the forthcoming scholastic year, all classrooms will have an interactive whiteboard, making teaching more exciting, fully utilising the Internet, an important tool in education.

The student population is growing fast and a new block has had to be built with 18 classrooms, two computer and two biology laboratories, a lab for technical design and a state-of-the-art library which last year won the prestigious Library of the Year Award.

Could such a small number of students in each classroom be a disadvantage rather than an advantage? Is the school in this sense sheltering students too much and not preparing them enough for university life?

Ms Attard disagrees, insisting instead that her school is “ideal” because it serves as a half-way house between the sheltered environment at secondary level and the open and free-for-all environment at university level.

“We do not pamper students but offer them guidance and help them in their psychological development. Here they do not get the shock they get at other post-secondary institutions. But they are still ready to face university life by the time they leave. Here students do not feel as though they are left alone,” she said.

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