Just over 272 children who attend State schools cannot communicate with their teachers or peers since they do not understand Maltese or English, according to Ray Facciol, assistant director of the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education. In November, an induction centre was opened to help children who arrived in Malta facing the double language barrier. However, the government is now trying to draw up a plan to address the children who landed in Malta before November.

Consultation meetings are being held.

 

Maltese is like a bubble that cannot be burst or a house you are locked out of, according to two of the 272 immigrant children who attend school in Malta but have communication problems.

These children, most of them in primary school, cannot understand Maltese or English, which makes learning a struggle for them and their teachers.

A 12-year-old immigrant girl, who illustrated her perception of Maltese with a drawing, drew a large wave with a ship on its crest and explained that people who knew Maltese were in that ship.

She then pointed to the bottom of the wave where there was a wrecked ship – she was in that ship since she could not communicate, explained teacher Sharon Micallef Cann, who spoke to these children as part of her Masters’ thesis in Applied Language Studies.

When teachers have a positive feeling about students, the students feel it and they move forward

In her research she looked at immigrant students in Malta and the language barrier they face – a subject that was discussed during a consultation workshop organised by the Education Ministry on Friday.

At the moment, 272 of the children who attend State schools cannot communicate with their teachers or peers since they do not understand either language, explains Ray Facciol, assistant director of the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education.

With the influx of immigrants, their numbers have increased over the years and the government is now drawing up a plan to tackle the issue.

In November the Pembroke induction centre was opened to take in new students who arrive in Malta facing the double language barrier.

However, the government is now trying to draw up a plan to address the children who landed in Malta before November, and who are struggling in the mainstream system.

Consultation meetings are being held in preparation for drawing up the plan. On Friday the ministry organised a meeting for educators and invited US researcher and author Cristina Igoa to share her experience working with immigrant children and language.

An immigrant child originating from the Philippines, Dr Igoa is an expert in multicultural education and the author of the book The Inner World of the Immigrant Child in which she talks about her experience helping immigrant children learn English in California, where she lives.

We need to teach them the basics such as why the bell rings – that it’s not because there is an emergency

“I focused on the aspect of reading English and on getting them on grade level (to have the reading skills required in the grade they were in) and then they’re going to be successful… When the teachers have a positive feeling about students, the students feel it and they move forward,” she said.

Over the years she has met some of the children she taught, and who are now working adults.

Some time ago she got a friend request on Facebook from a young man and she did not accept it.

He then sent her an e-mail identifying himself as a student from the class of 1993. He told her he had become the sales manager of the biggest tequila company in Mexico and spoke perfect English during his travels.

Such success stories are encouraging to Elizabeth Pisani, a coordinator within the Education Ministry.

The ministry had to ensure that the plan being drawn up would offer a holistic approach to the realities faced by the immigrant children who were in Malta, she said.

Some, from war-torn countries like Libya and Syria, were “shell-shocked” and had seen atrocities no one their age should experience. Apart from facing the language barrier, some children did not have any experience of schooling.

“We need to teach them the basics such as why the bell rings – that it’s not because there is an emergency,” she said.

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