The proposed changes to Matsec will result in Maltese and English languages being “crowded out of the system”, two leading academics fear.

Mario Aquilina, senior lecturer with the University of Malta’s English Department, and professor Adrian Grima from the Department of Maltese, lamented the “dumbing down” of Malta’s two official languages in the post-secondary reform put forward by the Matsec Board for public consultation earlier this month.

The two academics from part of a group of lecturers and experts in the field who have banded together to express their concerns over the reform.

At a point when a student was meant to become more proficient and more sensitive to the intricacies of language, expression and articulation, they told The Sunday Times of Malta, the system seemed to be more intent on lowering the expected level of proficiency.

“This means students will know less and they will be able to play with language less. In a world where it has become extremely complex, where fake news is doing the rounds and where we really need the skills to deconstruct what we hear, students are being given less skills and less opportunity to do this deconstruction,” Prof. Grima said.

Maltese and English are currently among a group of languages from which prospective sixth formers must choose at least one and obtain a pass in order to be awarded the Matriculation Certificate. This will no longer be the case if the proposed changes are implemented.

It is difficult to explain why Malta’s official languages are being weakened

The new compulsory group will be made up only of foreign languages, including four new syllabi for proficiency in Spanish, Italian, German and French, while the two official languages will instead be shifted to another, non-compulsory group.

The lecturers said this change was not being properly communicated by Matsec, with many wrongly believing the foreign language would be taken over and above one of the two other languages.

“When people think that a foreign language will be added to the two languages, they are wrong. The group with the four foreign languages is going to become compulsory instead of a wider group of languages which included Maltese and English, Dr Aquilina explained.

“This puts Maltese and English at an obvious disadvantage. It is difficult to explain why Malta’s official languages are being treated in this way. Instead of being strengthened, they are being weakened.

“We know the numbers and there are a lot of students who will go for only one language. With Maltese and English not being part of the compulsory group, these languages will not be chosen.”

On claims by Matsec that the students would still be exposed to the two official languages through the revamped Systems of Knowledge, the academics argued this could never replace the skills they would acquire through the formal learning of the two languages.

According to Dr Aquilina, the board is indicating that the focus of the restructured Systems of Knowledge will be almost exclusively on communicative and cultural skills.

The two academics also questioned whether Matsec had carried out any studies on the long-term impact of the changes on the two official languages. Their departments not been approached before the changes were announced so they did not have any information about what the proposed changes were based on. All they could do right now was pass on their concerns to Matsec, mainly through an “anonymous online form”.

“There is a lack of clarity that shows you the glibness of the proposals report. We are receiving mixed messages on feedback. The form we are being told to make use of is anonymous, so Matsec do not know who is sending in the feedback,” Dr Aquilina said.

“I hope the feedback form is not a gimmick but that it is actually a real attempt to ask for real consultation with all the stakeholders. I do hope that this does lead to some real change rather than tokenistic listening.”

Matsec reacts

A spokesman for the Matsec Board was asked whether it had studied the long-term impacts of the proposed changes on the two official languages.

He replied by pointing out that the proposal reflected recommendations of the European Commission which he said “encourages upper secondary students to be proficient in a language other than the language of instruction”.

In its recommendations, the Commission called for EU member states to explore ways to help all young people “acquire before the end of upper secondary education and training – in addition to the languages of schooling – where possible, a competence level in at least one other European language...”

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