The University’s Matsec Board has announced revisions to the requirements to obtain the Matriculation Certificate. 

When the SEC and Matsec were introduced to replace the British GCE and GCSE, many in these islands were antagonistic to the move and sceptical about its success. Some people still are.  

The hard work of a dedicated group of academics and administrators, led first by Prof. Joseph Falzon and currently by Prof. Frank Ventura, proved that the difficult task of offering local, national education certificates of equal standing with renowned foreign ones, could be and has been achieved. 

Now, the board has decided, correctly, that the Matriculation Certificate requirements need revising and has invited reactions to its proposals. 

While I admire the scope and range of the intended changes, some proposals will create more problems than they solve. 

My suggestions should be taken in the spirit I write, namely not as criticism, but as recommendations for improvement. 

Systems of Knowledge (SoK)

This component of the examination should have been done away with altogether. It was introduced to comply with Cardinal Newman’s concept of “developing the whole man” (sic.) but ignored the fact that the good cardinal’s concepts were intended for adult not teenage students. 

The vast majority of the latter have failed to appreciate the composite subject as a conduit to widen their knowledge and viewpoints about life.  

The board notes that some students appreciated SoK, a claim I do not contest. However, my dealings with students, especially during my 10 years’ experience as chairman of the Junior College Board, confirm that the vast majority regarded the subject as an unconnected mixture of issues and an unnecessary hurdle to University entry, and they hated it.  

Is the students’ aversion to SoK sufficient reason to abolish it? Yes, if the years have shown that the subject has not reached its original aims.  Unfortunately, the suggested new components seem to lack coherence and will create new problems, not solve old ones.

Talented athlete scheme

The scheme aims to encourage greater participation in sports and reward success in athletic activities. It is an excellent idea to promote sports and athletics but in this instance it is a misconceived and discriminatory move for two reasons. First, why reward only athletes? Why not reward also students who excel in music, painting, model-making, photography, billiards, travel, do-it-yourself, blogging, computer games, carpentry, lace-making, etc? What about students who win the Junior European and the Malta song contests? 

Some students shine in one or more of the above areas; shouldn’t their talents too, be recognised and rewarded? 

My answer is an unqualified no: they should not and nor should athletes because (a) where does one stop to recognise excellence? and (b) the Matriculation Certificate is essentially an academic award which certifies a candidate’s potential to proceed to tertiary level academic work.  

I propose that only one of our two national languages should be a compulsory requirement for Matsec

Second, the board’s recommendations state that the athletes “would need to be extremely promising and would most likely already be competing at a national and international level”. 

I feel that this level of athletic achievement should be a reward in itself and this elite group do not need the Matsec Board to supplement their academic results with additional points. 

The country can justifiably reward these athletes by other means. 

What about those athletes who try extremely hard but do not reach national or international levels? 

What about athletes with disabilities who through sheer determination and hard practice overcome their disability but do not reach very demanding expectations? Shouldn’t their efforts be rewarded too? 

The board’s proposal in this instant is well intentioned, but creates discrimination and should be dropped. 

Foreign language

The board recommends the requirement of a ‘foreign language’ in addition to Maltese and English, our national languages. 

This proposal neglects the fact that in the islands’ evolving cosmopolitan society, an increasing number of citizens consider Maltese or English or both as ‘foreign languages’. 

Indeed, the proposed reform eschews the complex issue of the Maltese language as a Matsec requirement. 

May I (as others have done before me) suggest a highly controversial proposal but one that needs to be dealt with without further delay. I refer to the very real problem faced by students coming from non-Maltese speaking families. 

I propose that only one of our two national languages should be a compulsory requirement for Matsec, although those who wish can, of course, offer both.

This proposal spells anathema to those Maltese who consider it as unpatriotic, and a traitor who dares suggest it.  

I am neither. I am expressing the reality that an ever-increasing number of students living in on our islands, with Maltese citizenship and paying local taxes, cannot master the Maltese language at the required Matsec level, regardless of how hard they try. 

Consequently, they are denied entry to the University of Malta. Those who can afford it seek tertiary education abroad. And those who cannot afford it?

Such students include many who come from Maltese families whose home language is English (mine is not one of them). Please do not label such families as unpatriotic and/or traitors and/or elitists. They are in this situation for many complex reasons, and in an inclusive society their children should be allowed to benefit from entry to the UoM and eventually contribute to national development.

Those who fear that my proposal will lead to the demise of the Maltese language should note there are more efficient ways of preserving the Maltese language other than making it compulsory for entry to our University.

The proposed ‘foreign language’ requirement aims to comply with the European Commission’s desire to consolidate our European identity.  Such reasoning reminds me of the 1970-80s imposition of the Arabic language to promote friendly communications and understanding with our neighbours to the south. 

We all remember the sad outcome of that imposition; should we now repeat the same mistake? Surely there are more efficacious ways of consolidating a European identity other than having an intermediate pass in one out of four of the 23 EU official languages.

Saddest of all, the proposed Foreign Language requirement will create an additional barrier to University entry for students suffering from the dyslexia or autism conditions.

Extra-curricular activities

The provisions for extra-curricular activities and assessment are commendable especially if the MATSEC Board takes precautions to curb unfair marking and subjective evaluations (or cheating) that some individuals will be tempted to practice.

Finally, I stress that my comments and suggestions should not detract from the excellent service that the Matsec Board provides to our educational system. 

Many senior educators at the time of the Board’s inception denigrated it and prophesised doom and failure. 

They have been proven wrong due to the dedication, expertise and hard work of the officials involved. 

The current board members have taken very bold steps when proposing these reforms; I wish and suggest that they should go further.

Prof. Charles Farrugia is Founding-Dean of the Faculty of Education, former Pro-Rector and University Ombudsman.

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