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A school with a difference

The Maria Al Batool School, housed at the Islamic Centre at Corradino, Paola, recently held its prize day and end-of-scholastic-year ceremony. Guests included the Secretary of the Libyan People's Bureau in Malta (Ambassador) Saad A.F. Elshlemani, the director of the Islamic Call Society in Malta, Wagdi Nashnoush, the Maltese assistant director of education, Alfred Grima, other guests and parents.

The headmistress of the school, Maria Camilleri, spoke in her report on the progress achieved by the students and plans for the future. She stressed the importance of parents and teachers working together and quoted George P. Kelloway's book Education for living that education is a preparation for life as it has to be lived.

Ms Camilleri added: "The complexity of our modern society is obscuring a good deal of the sense of purpose in life. New values are sweeping away older ones and the more enduring and worthwhile values, such as beauty, truth, honesty, integrity and others, unfortunately are being forgotten in the struggle to acquire material wealth."

She thanked Mohammed El Saadi, Imam of the Islamic Mosque, housed at the Islamic Centre in Corradino, Paola, and other patrons for their support and praised the staff for "working so heartily and with great dedication to mould the school into one of the most remarkable in Malta".

Both Dr Elshlemani and Mr Grima praised the school for its efforts and achievements.

The Maria Al Batool (or the Virgin Mary) School is truly a school with a difference because it caters for a special type of children - children who come from a different type of set-up, both in environment and religion than that of other children in Malta. It was founded to cater for children who come from Muslim families but who are growing up in Malta and is the only one teaching Arabic and Islamic education to Muslim children in Malta.

The Maria Al Batool School was set up on the initiative of Imam El Saadi in his capacity of president of the Maltese Islamic Welfare Fund. Together with the present headmistress, who is Maltese, a former politician and Roman Catholic by religion, Mr Saadi planned and worked until finally the school was established in November 1977.

Today this primary school has a population of around 130 in Kindergarten classes (aged three to four) and primary classes (aged five to ten years). Children are not just locals but come from at least 14 countries: Libya, Palestine, Mauritius, Russia, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Algeria, Britain, Poland, Venezuela and Syria.

The school is probably the only one of its kind with a Christian headmistress and the majority of its teachers also being Christian. The nine non-Muslim teachers teach subjects like Mathematics and information technology. Muslim teachers are responsible for teaching the Islamic religion.

The Maria Al Batool School is licensed by the Maltese Education Department and follows the National Curriculum. The school's actual curriculum is based on the Maltese National Curriculum with the Islamic ethos.

Children are taught mathematics, English, Maltese, Arabic, Islamic education and Quran recitation, social studies, physical education, art, music, crafts and information technology. School starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m., with the exception of Fridays, when school finishes at 12.30 p.m. to allow the students the option of taking part in the Friday Salat (prayers at the Mosque).

The mission statement of the school declares that it provides children with a safe, caring and supportive environment where Islamic principles are developed alongside the academic performance according to the National Curriculum and on the basic values of awareness of Allah (God), honesty, tolerance, reliability, responsibility, respect, wisdom, commitment and integrity.

And the school aims to provide students with the knowledge that all are appreciated, equally valued, respected and offered equal opportunity to develop according to their talents and inclinations. It also aims to instil in children an appreciation and pride in the Islamic religion and culture in a multicultural society, and to enable students to develop the necessary attitudes and skills to face the challenges encountered throughout life.

By aiming to foster the enjoyment of learning in every student, and providing each student access to a broad, coherent curriculum, the school also aims to give importance to the individual as a creative person within the wider society.

Through Imam El Saadi and Ms Camilleri and her staff, a complete primary school environment has been successfully created. The staff at the school are very dedicated to the children's academic, spiritual and personal development.

The children are given considerable attention and a staunch contact is kept with parents, who are made to involve themselves in their child's education and to be responsible for their child's development. All teachers are qualified and in possession of a teacher's warrant. Muslim teachers are responsible for teaching children Arabic and Islamic studies.

Maria AL Batool School not only provides a sound, modern educational programme compatible with the Maltese educational system, but is also helping Muslim children, who are being brought up and educated in a Western environment, to protect their identity and retain their roots by understanding their faith and prepares them to face successfully the challenges of today's world.

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