MALTESE LANGUAGE TEACHING AND LEARNING
CHARLES GALEA – TEACHER OF MALTESE NSW
We have been told many times during these last two years of the impending decision of cutting off the Maltese language and fold down all the initiatives that we have built over the last 20 years. The people who were alerting us about this are the heads of the Board of Studies (BOS) of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
We see a little bit of contradiction that at one moment they want to close down the language because of the numbers and they know quite well that the number fluctuates between one year and another. At another moment they tell you that unless we find more teachers and examiners who can accommodate the BOS needs, they will have no option but also to close down the class.
For us all these arguments are beating round the bush. The fundamental thing is that they see the community languages as superfluous and contribute nothing economically to the Government and the education system. This applies especially to small languages where because there is no muscle they can wipe them down with little effort to comply with a wider policy of closing down languages.
However, the plan is there. Already other small languages such as Swedish have already closed down. Maltese is on the agenda and the fact that we are discussing this very issue it is obvious that the concern of everyone is to reverse this decision and let the Maltese language finds its roots among the Maltese community in Australia.
In the last ten years we have worked very hard in putting the Maltese language at par with other languages in setting up the Syllabus and programs for Years 11 and 12. Previously, we wrote for the BOS the K7-10 syllabus, which only this year it has been revised to accommodate the outcome-based syllabus of the BOS. This work took months to compile and runs into four volumes of documents. This is not to mention the wonderful resources we were able to buy directly from Malta or donated by the Malta High Commission in Australia. This lifted the quality of teaching of the language.
One should also add that many of our students who finished Year 12 Maltese successfully were able to teach in the Maltese language schools and still high performing students can also be part of this human resource that can add to the teaching experience of the Maltese.
The BOS complains about experts in Maltese teaching. There are people especially ex-teachers who can give a formidable contribution to teaching. But if the BOS is only concerned in cost-cutting exercises and nothing else, whatever arguments you bring on the sustainability of the language will be of no use to them.
Once we have been told that even if there is only one student that class will continue to operate. We know that teachers of Maltese have worked so hard to keep the language going. To abolish it altogether would be a great loss to the education system in Australia and to the Maltese community in particular.
What needs to be done?
We have to infuse in our students the idea that they must give something back to the community. We must empower the youth to take over many of the activities that are now being done by people who may have lost contact with the reality in which the young people of today live or the need of new blood in the Maltese community system to sustain and propagate the study of Maltese language and culture.
We have to militate against such decision. Action speaks louder than words. We must uncover the true policy behind closing down small languages.
The Maltese authorities should be given the exact information, not hearsay, but information from the horse's mouth of what the real issues are. There is only a limited amount of what officially one can do. We always emphasised this point. It is us, on the ground and in the trenches, that must lead the fight and don't expect the Maltese government to fight for us.
We must increase the number of students in every school. We must catch the parents of students especially in Year 6 of the primary and blitzed them with the importance of language study. If possible meetings and leaflets for such parents can be reached through the public schools as well as the private. One would say that the majority of students in the studying Maltese come from private schools and very little from public.
The lessons that we give must be of high standard. For us basing lessons on ‘who the Maltese are', is constantly the underlying factor in all our programs. This is what the students want and that's why they come to the language schools, they want to know their roots and clarify their identity. If you persistently give them that, through the study of the Maltese language, they will be motivated to come and give their best effort.
We must convince the Australian Education Authorities that we have the means and expertise to deliver all the Board Of Studies wants. If they want to set papers from NSW and/or South Australia and mark them there, we can deliver that. Our teachers have set tens of papers to students of various abilities and being involved in the programmes and syllabus we can deliver the best outcomes for the language.
Important also is to keep track of the high performing students who can easily be involved as teachers of Maltese with a little bit of training. Mature students from the Maltese Language Schools can also be tracked down and instil in them a sense of duty to give back something to the Maltese community.
The teachers that we have must be well trained and they should show authority when dealing with students. Teachers must challenge the students by giving those tasks that make them think deeply about issues that really are relevant to them.
The Federation of Maltese Language Schools must empower the youths and put them at the top of the agenda and be given responsibilities that make them attract other youths to the Maltese community. The study of the Maltese language should continue to be the basis of the existence of the community as the language is the soul of who we are.
One of our dreams has always been the setting up of The Institute of Maltese and Mediterranean Studies by the direct help of the Maltese Government. This should have its own premises which comprise a library and a resource centre, Internet and technology facility for teaching, seminar rooms, research facility and classrooms. It should be in a place central to the Maltese community.
The Federation of Maltese Language Schools will amalgamate all the functions now carried by other bodies to this Institute. It should be based on user-pay services and all the cultural institutions instead of spending money on festas etc, should contribute to this institution. This institution should be also made available to other Mediterranean languages and so a form of cross-cultural connections must be set up. They can also help in the setting up of the Institute. The people managing this centre should be given appropriate remuneration and be of the highest integrity.
If everything else fails, the fundamental option is to ignore the BOS and organise the Maltese language study on our own terms. We emphasise the idea that you don't study the language for Higher School Certificate but to better know who you are. It is important the Federation enters into discussion with Maltese educational institutions in Malta to help and finance some of the initiatives that we put forward. We try to reach an agreement on accreditations for our exams and awards that we may give.
These are off-hand some of our reactions and ideas we would like to put forward at this point in time into the debate that has been initiated. We hope we have been of some help in these trying times for the Maltese community and its aspirations.