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Policy needed to cater for Malta’s increasingly diverse student population

Participants at the conference.

Participants at the conference.

In some areas of Malta today, between 50 and 70 per cent of the school population is made up of immigrant children from European or other countries, with some schools having as many as 38 different nationalities of students.

These striking statistics emerged from a recent two-day national conference aimed at bringing together various stakeholders to ignite a debate, identify the challenges and make policy proposals that will eventually lead to a holistic policy on immigration and education in Malta.

It was organised by Carmen Sammut, University of Malta’s pro-Rector for Student and Staff Affairs and Outreach, the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, the Faculty of Education and the Ministry for Education.

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo discussed the notion of education as a universal human right. Equality Minister Helena Dalli recommended the creation of ‘one-stop shops’ aimed at addressing the concerns and requirements of immigrants in the context of their formal education.

Some schools have as many as 38 different nationalities of students

Eileen Ariza, a US Fulbright Scholar currently at the University of Malta, and Faculty of Education dean Sandro Caruana spoke about the role of language as the key to integration and the challenges schools faced in this regard.

Faculty for Social Wellbeing dean Andrew Azzopardi re­ferred to the University’s role to identify and address challenges faced by an ever-changing society. Dr Sammut said diversity could become an educational tool but added that new learning methods and greater school autonomy were important to allow for flexibility.

Rector Alfred Vella spoke about the University’ Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and its International Foundation School, which enable refugees and asylum seekers to apply for university courses. Saleh Ahmed, who graduated from the International Foundation School and went on to obtain a BA Honours and a Master’s in International Relations, gave a poignant rendition of the challenges he faced during his studies and beyond.

Other interventions were made by University Student Council (KSU) president Robert Napier, student NGO Spark 15 representatives Nagm Arbab and Abdo Sola and representatives of the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (Mcast), the Institute for Tourism Studies and Junior College.

During the conference, the University announced the setting up of a Committee for Race and Ethnic Affairs aimed at creating awareness on the importance of inclusion and integration, facilitating access and safeguarding the rights of students from racial or ethnic minorities.

Workshops focused on policy proposals on themes such as language diversity, mainstreaming diversity in the curriculum, gender, religion and accessing the educational institutions.

The conference was concluded by President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, who said integration was vital for social cohesion. She stressed that Malta must aim towards inclusivity, rather than assimilation, of various cultures.

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