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Mixed signals from Matsec results

Waiting for exam results is often a nerve-racking experience for most students. Now that the Matsec results are published, educators, students and, of course, their parents try to understand evolving trends in the educational system.

The language question continues to be one of the most emotive issues that engage educators and students. Malta is a bilingual country where both the Maltese and English languages are equally important for those who want to practise their career on these islands. With the influx of foreign workers, the debate on the relevance of the Maltese language in the country’s business, cultural and social spheres can often give rise to passionate controversies.

When the latest Matsec results were out, an Education Department representative said that 71.4 per cent of all students obtained a pass in the English language and 57.5 per cent passed in mathematics. The pass rate for Maltese was 65.6 per cent. This data indicates an improvement in the results of English and mathematics but a deterioration in the pass rate of Maltese.

There could be various theories to explain these mixed results and trends. The natural aptitude of students to do well in maths is often described as being less pronounced than for other academic subjects. This reality is unfortunate because, nowadays, the importance of proficiency in mathematics is considered as a critical success factor for those seeking jobs in ICT and technology-related industries.

There is no doubt that a good grasp of Maltese is, and is likely to remain, an essential element of success for those who intend to pursue a career here. There is also undeniable evidence that many Maltese families prefer to use English in their everyday communication whether at home, at work or in social circles. Still, Maltese is one of the two official languages of the country and, in most circumstances, the people of this country expect not to find communication barriers when opting to speak or write in Maltese.

There are some who argue that Maltese is too difficult a language for locals and, more so, for foreigners, to master and that we should rely more on the use of the English language. Educators understandably generally disagree with this theory and insist we would be killing our cultural heritage slowly if we allow the standards of Maltese literacy to deteriorate among those born and bred in Malta.

The improvement in the pass rates in English are most welcome. English has and is likely to remain the lingua franca of business for decades to come. Science, technology, medicine, engineering, sports and politics use English as their primary language of communication. But the local reality is that proficiency in Maltese is still essential in many spheres of community life.

It would be wrong to put pressure on students by adding more layers of mandatory academic achievements. However, competence in primary academic subjects like English, mathematics and Maltese should remain the hallmark of an excellent educational formation for those who want to earn a living in Malta.

Educators also need to understand the evolving social trends of society and make the teaching of Maltese, and other core subjects, more interesting for students. Parents should instil the love of knowledge in their children without prejudice against elements of our culture they may dislike.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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