University aiming for promising Cottonera youngsters

Students may come from families that do not think going to the University is an option. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Students may come from families that do not think going to the University is an option. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

There are students from the Cottonera area who have read all the books in the local library and have great academic potential but some do not even consider going to the University.

The idea was to sustain them and their families so that they do not fall through the system

Aware of this reality, the University of Malta is setting up the Cottonera Resource Centre to reach out to such promising young people who often come from backgrounds where tertiary education is not thought of as an option.

“Some of these students come from families where the parents or guardians might not be aware of all the post-secondary educational options available,” JosAnn Cutajar, the centre’s chairwoman, said, stressing that there were people who broke the cycle.

Research shows that fewer students from the inner harbour area, that includes Cottonera, are making it to the University.

The area was often presented in the media as having a high percentage of social problems and this often led the community to feel misunderstood and looked down upon by the rest of the country, Dr Cutajar said.

The Cottonera Resource Centre, to be launched in the coming months, aims to address this by encouraging promising students from the inner harbour area to continue their studies. The idea is to involve the community in the project.

“Having lived in Cottonera all my life, I know that the idea of ‘university’ can sometimes be daunting.

“We aim to act as a bridge between the community and the University and to pass the message that the University is everyone’s legacy,” said Andreana Dibben, the director of the centre.

“I must stress that the centre is not just about that. It will work to highlight the area’s human potential, like the skills and trades handed from one generation to another, and its non-human potential, such as the architecture and heritage,” Ms Dibben said.

A pilot study that started last year – in collaboration with the European Centre for Educational Resilience and Socio-Emotional Health and St Margaret College – identified 12 students, aged between 11 and 15, from senior schools in the area.

“The students were chosen because of their high academic potential. At the same time, due to certain invisible barriers, there was a risk that they might terminate their studies prematurely.

“The idea was to sustain them and their families so that they do not fall through the system,’’ Ms Dibben explained.

Twelve mentors were identified to work with the students who were followed on three levels: peer mentoring, family- and school-based support, and making the students aware of resources within their community that would enhance their non-formal education.

Many of the mentors were from the south and some were mature University students who did not go through the traditional pathway and, therefore, knew the hurdles that the students could face.

As part of the same initiative, another group of 12 students shadowed people working in various roles at the University and 24 children were sponsored to attend the Kids on Campus summer school.

Ms Dibben said the centre would like to start a preparation programme for mature students. It also aspired to develop informal courses that would encourage people from outside the area to learn particular skills from locals.

These skills could include boat-making or something as simple as cost-effective ways of maintaining old buildings, which the area is filled with.

Ms Dibben added that this was “action research” that would continue developing according to what the community identified as a priority.

Meanwhile, in the days leading up to the open week at the University, between today and Saturday, activities will be organised in Cottonera as part of the Discover University Project.

The University will spend a day in Senglea (October 29), Cospicua (October 31) and Vittoriosa (November 2). A tent will be set up to offer information, interactive talks for school students, traditional sports and games and various activities starting at 9am and ending with a debate organised by local youth groups at 7pm.

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