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Guest Commentary: The Conspicuous Absence Of The Arts In Malta’s Proposed Sixth Form Syllabus Reform

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Professor Raphael Vella is an artist, curator and Associate Professor in Art Education within the University of Malta’s Faculty of Education

Reforming Malta’s Matriculation Certificate is an important exercise and it’s great that MATSEC is coming forward with proposals. The 2019 reform issued earlier this week, however, is still quite vague, so it’s not easy for educators and other stakeholders to give feedback about it.

For example, can anyone at MATSEC explain how we should interpret “an integration of culture within a communicative context” in the new subject replacing Systems of Knowledge? I’ve worked in the field of culture for around 30 years and I also taught Systems of Knowledge in the past for several years, but I can’t quite put my finger on its meaning. Judging from the overall importance granted to languages in this reform, I can guess that it possibly refers to the role of language in intercultural communication.

Yes, languages are central to our lives… but what’s the point of basic language proficiency if students don’t know how to use a language creatively and critically?

Where are the arts in this reform? How can MATSEC assume that foreign languages are better at strengthening ‘European identity’ than literature, music, philosophy, theatre and so on? The MATSEC reform indicates that its proposal to make at least one foreign language compulsory is based on the European Commission’s communication on ‘Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture’ (2017) but it seems to ignore that same report’s sustained references to the creative and cultural sectors.

The MATSEC reform also introduces a talented athlete scheme for those who would like to continue practising their sport during their studies, but what about those who are working to achieve excellence in an art form? Making specific subjects compulsory is likely to have a negative impact on students’ choice of other areas, especially subjects in the current Group 4 range like Art, Music, Graphical Communication and Theatre and Performance.

MATSEC unfortunately does not appear to consider expertise in creative fields when it proposes changes in its systems of assessment. 

We have already experienced this in the lower SEC level, where a new one-size-fits-all system of assessment with zero input from arts education experts is being implemented. Now we have a reform at sixth form level that speaks vaguely of cultural skills but does not try to foster an environment for a quality education in the arts.

True, foreign languages may indeed help to develop intercultural communication, but what will happen when there’s no culture left to communicate?

Lovin Malta is open to external contributions that are well written and thought provoking. If you would like your commentary to be featured as a guest post, please write to hello@lovinmalta.com and add Guest Commentary in the subject line. Contributions are subject to editing and do not necessarily represent Lovin Malta’s views.

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