A proposed Matsec reform which will require sixth formers to study another language apart from English and Maltese is drawing strong opposition, as Education Minister Evarist Bartolo personally found out on Wednesday morning.

The proposed reform, involving various aspects of the Matsec system, is open to public consultation until the end of the month. It was unveiled on Monday by Matsec examinations board chairman Frank Ventura.

Mr Bartolo uploaded a post on his Facebook wall arguing that every language that one learnt opened new doors, and apart from learning Maltese and English, it was good to learn another language. 

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The overwhelming reaction was that it was good to learn another language. But no one agreed that it should be made compulsory for sixth form students, as has been proposed. 

Those arguing against the Matsec proposals included former MP Deborah Schembri, who is no stranger to opposing reforms by Mr Bartolo. Two decades ago, she led a student march when she was a University student and he was minister for the first time in the 1996 legislature. The issue then was over stipends.

"Sorry but as much as I love languages and would urge anyone to learn them I absolutely do not agree with imposing their study on students at sixth form level. Not knowing a language at intermediate or advanced level does not mean one cannot communicate in that language. Imposing the study of a third language at that level means:

"1. That if you happen to dislike languages you mess up your chances to get to university where you could wish to study something which does not require the use of the said third language at all;

"2. You also waste your time studying something you dislike instead of studying something that interests you, which is, in my view, akin to mortal sin," she wrote on Facebook.

Moving the goalposts

She said that making it a requirement from 2020 onwards meant that students who had already started studying a third language without much success now had their goalposts changed mid-game as they were stuck with the study of that language for an additional two years. "So much for legitimate expectations!"

Whilst the rest of the reform sought to bring out the best in students by taking note of their interests, this imposition went diametrically opposite that ethos and put student interests aside.

"We cannot treat 16-year-olds like adults giving them the right to vote on one hand and then treat them like 2-year-olds expecting to know better than them by dictating what they should direct their knowledge towards," she added.

"We are a country which has given its citizens innumerable civil liberties, we cannot take away the right to choose when it comes to the most fundamental aspect of growth... education

"Compulsory education stops at age 16 so it is ridiculous to make any subject compulsory from then on. One's choice should be determined by university entry requirements for any given subject"

"We are a country which has given its citizens innumerable civil liberties, we cannot take away the right to choose when it comes to the most fundamental aspect of growth... education.

Evarist Bartolo. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiEvarist Bartolo. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

"So please, if you are of the same opinion, take part in the public consultation and voice your concern. I just did," she said.

Another commenter, Geraldine Vella, said she disagreed with imposition, "Remember those students studying sciences. They are already under huge stress, what we need to do is ease the load rather than make it heavier." She also argued that the level of teaching of languages in secondary schools needed to improve. Many students who got a language pass at ordinary level could still not use that language effectively, she said. 

Best time for new languages is in primary school

Daniela Briffa said the best time for children to be introduced to foreign languages was in primary school.

Melanie Meilak said not many students were good at languages and she feared many would drop out of sixth form. "It would be better if courses on how to keep mentally healthy and how to handle stress are introduced," she said. 

"Moreover teaching them another language doesn't necessarily make students more able to communicate. I see everyday students that have full degrees but they don't have skills to communicate with others because they spent to much time on books and less integrating with one another."

Marisa Deguaraga said MEPs could speak their native language in the European Parliament but this reform was telling Maltese students that Maltese, post, secondary was not as important as other languages.

Replying, Mr Bartolo disagreed, saying the importance of Maltese was not being reduced. If anything, it was being increased through changes in Systems of Knowledge (which will have more emphasis on communication).

But another user, Dona Caruana, told the minister that if he wanted to give importance to Maltese, he needed to see why foreign pupils in primary were refusing to speak Maltese and the Maltese were therefore having to speak in English and lessons, she said, were held in English.

Doors being closed

Jeffrey Camilleri said doors were being closed to students who were not so good in languages. 

Claudia Agius also said the best time to learn a language was at primary school. Replying, Mr Bartolo said that in post-secondary, students would continue to learn a language which they would have started before. "They will not be starting a new language," he wrote.

Claudine Agius said that opportunity already existed in the current system. But she felt that 16-year-olds should be able to focus on the subjects they intended to specialise in. Not everyone was interested in languages,

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