In March 2018, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo had proposed a three-tier system in end-of-secondary-education assessment. This followed recommendations from a Council of Europe report in 2015 on language education in Malta.

The current SEC in Maltese would be complemented by an ‘applied’ examination and a Maltese competence examination for foreigners. The government has now launched a policy for consultation outlining the way forward. 

The fact that a policy is now available is welcome and, indeed, long overdue. Minister Dolores Cristina had set up a committee to deliver such a policy in 2012 but nothing had come out of it. 

Minister Bartolo’s original proposal was criticised as potentially leaving the back door open for Maltese nationals who did not have sufficient Maltese proficiency. He had given assurances that this was not the intention. 

Indeed, in the policy only foreign students will be allowed to sit for the SEC in MFL. However, the proposed procedures for admission into the MFL course are vaguer; hopefully it is just a matter of tightening the language to align course admission with examination admission criteria. 

What is not at all clear in the document is how the MFL qualification is going to be pegged at SEC level in terms of equivalence with the current Maltese SEC for the language skills to be mastered, and when this new qualification is going to be available. 

The proposed policy rightly states that teachers of MFL should undergo appropriate training and that all teachers should be able to use Maltese as the medium of communication, and to a certain degree of instruction, in their subjects, with appropriate support in their pre-service training. 

However, there is a glaring mismatch between the spirit of these proposals and reality. The ministry is planning to employ foreign teachers who are going to be deployed in the migrant learners’ hubs. What are the minimum qualifications and language competence requirements of these teachers, and what training will be provided to upgrade their Maltese in line with government’s own proposed policy?

The government hardly has the human resources to cover current needs for the teaching of Maltese; it has faced industrial action that has disrupted examinations in State schools for this and other subjects. How are foreign supply teachers going to address the shortfall of teachers of Maltese that has been highlighted by the Malta Union of Teachers? 

Schools are set to open in a fortnight. 

Another proposal aimed at increasing language competence was the introduction of a foreign language component in the Matsec certification. In itself, this was worthy of consideration, but it was not thought through properly. 

It was not accompanied by a cost-benefit analysis of the implications to ‘A’ Level students’ study load, and was shot down by the public. This should not have been a surprise to government since this proposal had been shelved in consultations with VI Forms, only to pop up in the government proposal. 

This government’s Achilles’ heel in educational policy seems to be proper in-depth planning. This was evident in the implementation of the free transport pledge, in forecasting classroom space and teacher needs, and in the introduction of major reforms such as the Learning Outcomes Framework last year and ‘My Journey’ this year. 

Will this failing undermine the good intentions of the MFL policy?