Education ministry reassures that English will retain its status in the curriculum

Following the results of the Cambridge English benchmarking report, the education ministry said English will retain its status and importance as an official language.

The education ministry has reassured that the status of the English language in the educational system will remain as it is, and that it will “continue to be treated as having a specific status, alongside Maltese.”

The statement comes after media reports claimed that the report had recommended that lessons and assessment would resemble methods used to teach foreign students.

While the report recommends further use of pair work, peer assessment and learner centred activities to encourage self-regulated learning, the ministry reiterated that it had and would continue to maintain a policy in favour of bilingual education, where English is given the same level of interest as its fellow official language, Maltese.

“Therefore the expectations for English attainment are much higher than for attainment in foreign languages and the data and results from this study are to be interpreted with this consideration in mind,” the statement reads.

The statement went on to point out that the benchmarking exercise, which took the performances and attitudes of primary year 5 and secondary form 4 students, parent, guardians and teachers, across various school sectors, ultimately showed that a large proportion of learners could be considered “independent users of English”. The report indicated that for primary students speaking and reading are the strongest and weakest skills respectively, while for secondary students, the strongest skill is listening, while the weakest skill is writing.

The ministry added that in planning the way forward, students will be supported to maintain and improve further those skills where they achieve well, with increased intervention for those students who require additional support. 

“A clear strategy which involves both revised programmes and more intensive professional development opportunities for teachers is being implemented by the Directorates of Education,” the statement reads.

The ministry added that in line with the recommendations, teachers would be provided with further professional development opportunities for teachers, in conjunction with Cambridge English.

“Experienced teachers of English are being trained in order to train other teachers at both primary and secondary levels to be able to implement effective methodologies in the teaching, learning and assessment of English.”

The ministry also pointed out the importance of the Learning Outcomes Framework plays in the strategy, focusing on all the language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking for all languages, as well as grammar and literature for Maltese and English).

The report in fact recommends the use of awareness- raising activities to give students and parents a message about the importance of literature in language learning, as well as activities to enhance the use of English outside the classroom context like English clubs, libraries, school events and online activities like blogs or pen friends, which also highlights the recommendation to use technology for language learning.

The report goes on to recommend the use of technology by students and parents as an opportunity to self-assess. It also recommends that the ministry should do its best to ensure that teachers have access to the necessary technological resources to use the tools effectively, as well as face to face meetings between parents and teachers to explain the importance of parent involvement in learning.

Interestingly, the report also recommends that the ministry looks at the implications of social prejudices on language learning, and it adds that a negative attitude towards English language use outside the classroom, could effectively hinder the development and learning of English. It also indicates that one of the biggest issues faced by educators is the presence of mixed-ability classes, and points out that teachers required more specific training into how to address the needs of different abilities, as well as those with learning disabilities and behavioural problems, through continuing professional development (CPD) sessions.