One in every five Maltese students “gets angry” when foreign children demand the same rights as them and believe that some are inferior, a study has revealed.

A “substantial number” of children also displayed traits of intolerance and prejudice against non-Maltese peers, with researchers suggesting this could possibly reflect fear, anxiety and mistrust resulting from lack of information, interactions and experience.

The data, which emerged from a study by University of Malta researchers and commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner, analysed the lives of foreign minors and their overall well-being.

A section of the study focused on the attitudes of Maltese students towards their foreign peers, with more than 1,000 pupils from state, Church and independent schools interviewed. Data from the Maltese students was gathered between October and November last year.

Students still hesitant and resistant to intercultural integration

The researchers also found that the Maltese students’ attitudes varied according to the nationality of their peers. While they were accepting of those from the West, namely students from Western Europe, North America and Australia as well as those from Latin America, they seemed to “like” students from certain other countries much less.

This was mainly the case with those who hailed from the Maghreb, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, with the researchers highlighting what they described as “apparent prejudice” against children from these regions.

There appeared to be “mixed feelings” about Eastern Europe and East Asia and ex-Soviet Union countries, the researchers concluded in their study.

On students who held positive views of foreign children, the researchers found those from independent schools as well as those attending primary school were most likely to have a tolerant and open approach towards their foreign peers. Those from Gozo, meanwhile, were found to have the least positive opinion of students coming from different countries.

“Students attending culturally diverse classrooms who live in culturally diverse neighbourhoods and who have non-Maltese friends entertain more positive views about the consequences of foreigners living in Malta,” the researchers noted.

Although being somewhat wary of their foreign peers, the data also suggested that the majority of Maltese students are against the segregation of foreign students in school and out of school activities, and “in favour of assimilation and integration in Maltese society”.

“A substantial number of students are still hesitant and resistant to intercultural integration. These are likely to attend church and secondary schools and have few non-Maltese children in their community or school or as friends. Younger primary school students, female students and students in state schools are more in favour of inter-culturalism and assimilation and less pro-separation,” they added.

The part of the study that focused on the foreign students’ attitudes, reported by the Times of Malta earlier this week, revealed that one in every three foreign students experienced some form of bullying while at school.

According to the data, the most common form of abuse was name calling, with almost 45% of students experiencing this type of bullying.

The figure was only slightly lower for two other forms – hitting and being “left out” – with 33% experiencing this form of bullying.

The research was conducted by Carmel Cefai, Noemi Keresztes, Natalie Galea, Rachel Spiteri from the University of Malta.