Melanie Sammut Casha
Desiree Scicluna Bugeja
Department of Curriculum Management
Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education
Ministry for Education and Employment
Overview of Education System
The Ministry for Education and Employment (MEDE) is responsible for education in Malta, with equity and inclusion underscoring the governmentʼs objective of providing high quality education for all. Commitment to these principles is evidenced by inclusivity at all levels and the provision of free public school education to all, from kindergarten to the tertiary level. The government also subsidizes church schools, which do not charge tuition fees, while parents whose children attend schools in the independent sector benefit from tax rebates.
The Education Act of 1988 is the legal framework regulating education provision in Malta.1 A 2006 amendment to the act established two directorates: the Directorate for Educational Services (DES) and the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education (DQSE). The DES plans, manages, and provides resources and services to state schools, while the DQSE establishes and monitors standards as well as quality of programs and services provided in state and nonstate (i.e., church and independent) schools. The amended Education Act further decentralized decision making by forming college networks in the state sector.2 There are 10 college networks, each with its own legal and distinct identity and consisting of multiple preprimary centers, primary schools, and at least two secondary schools.
The DQSE also is responsible for formulating, implementing, and monitoring the curriculum. The National Curriculum Framework for All (NCF),3 which guides education provision in compulsory schooling in Malta, was launched in 2012. The NCF addressed the gaps in Malta’s learning processes by shifting the emphasis of classroom instruction from teaching the subject to teaching the learner. The NCF is presented within a lifelong learning perspective and celebrates diversity by catering for all learners at each stage of their education. It aims to introduce greater equity and decentralization to the national education system while seeking to present a seamless curriculum that emphasizes smooth transitions and building on firm foundations laid in early childhood education.
In essence, the NCF aims to provide quality education for all learners, to encourage student enrolment in further and higher education, and to reduce the percentage of early school leavers. The NCF proposed the Learning Outcomes Framework (LOF) as the keystone for learning and assessment throughout compulsory schooling. The aim of the LOF is to free schools and learners from centrally imposed knowledge-centric syllabi, which in turn will give schools the freedom to develop programs that fulfill the objectives of knowledge, attitudes, and skills-based outcomes to which all learners in Malta are entitled. The LOF is intended to create greater curricular autonomy for colleges and schools, which will allow them to better address the learning needs of their students. In February 2014, the Framework for the Education Strategy for Malta 2014–20244 was launched with the aim of aligning in a coherent and comprehensive manner all strategies, policies, and plans being implemented by the Ministry for Education and Employment.
Compulsory education in Malta covers ages 5 to 16 and comprises three main cycles: early years (ages 5 to 7), junior years (ages 7 to 11), and secondary years (ages 11 to 16). Prior to the start of primary education, there is provision for early childhood education and care through the Free Childcare for All Scheme, established in April 2014 for children ages 0 to 3, and kindergarten for children ages 3 to 5. Although preprimary education is not compulsory, attendance is very high and reaches 100 percent between the ages of 4 and 5.
Parallel to the public education sector there is a nonstate sector composed of church and independent schools. All primary state schools are coeducational, while state secondary schools are being phased into a coeducational setting over a period of five years beginning in the 2014–2015 school year.
Following compulsory education, students can choose to follow a general or a vocational educational path. Two year general education courses leading to tertiary education are provided by the state or by nonstate educational institutions. On the other hand, students may follow vocational courses at two state educational institutions, the Malta College of Arts, Science, and Technology (MCAST) and the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS). Tertiary education is provided by the University of Malta and MCAST.
Languages of Instruction
At the end of 2014, the population of Malta was approximately 427,000 with 94 percent being Maltese. Malta has two official languages: Maltese, the national language, and English. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) regards bilingualism as the basis of the education system and defines bilingualism as the effective, precise, and confident use of the country’s two official languages. Students must be functionally bilingual by the end of their schooling experience. The NCF encourages teachers at the primary level to use English when teaching English, mathematics, science, and technology. At the secondary level, the curriculum requires Maltese and English subjects to be taught in their respective languages, and recommends that foreign languages be taught in those languages. Teachers of Social Studies, History, Geography, Religion, and Personal, Social, and Career Development (PSCD) teach these subjects in Maltese, while other subjects are taught in English. Bearing in mind NCF recommendations, classroom teachers decide what language will facilitate best student development and acquisition of mathematical concepts.
The National Literacy Strategy for All in Malta and Gozo 2014–2024 was launched by the Ministry for Education and Employment in June 2014. This strategy promotes a policy of bilingualism and biliteracy in Maltese and English and is based on the premise that one of the essential elements of a bilingual country is the ability of its people to switch easily between languages. This competence is valuable because it allows people in Malta access to both Maltese and English and other languages. The National Literacy Strategy for All supports dual literacy and seeks to ensure that it is fully embedded within the education system in Malta.
It is deemed essential that students be exposed to mathematical ideas in English, for example, and listen to adults using mathematical vocabulary. However, on no account should the use of Maltese or English be to the detriment of students’ learning mathematics content. Instruction in the science subjects is provided in English. However, in the majority of cases (especially in state schools), English is the students’ second language, and instruction in English can create challenges related to proper understanding of concepts.