Psychology’s rising popularity with Maltese teens overtakes Philosophy at Sixth Form

What goes in their minds? Over 2,000 sat for the Intermediate in Psychology since 2013

Young people, especially women, may be getting themselves a bigger dose of self-awareness and understanding of others.

Statistics indicating the rise in popularity of psychology at Sixth Form level, show that nearly 2,000 students sat for their exam in the newly-launched subject at Intermediate level.

Of these, 967 sat for their exam in 2017, which figure went up from 675 in 2014 when the subject was first launched.

Psychology also emerges as one of the most popular subjects among female students. In fact while 316 males sat for the May session in 2017, 651 female students made the same choice.

Students choose psychology from a specific cluster of subjects which includes sociology, religion, philosophy, marketing, history, geography, economics, accounting and classical studies.

The rise of psychology mirrors a drop in registrations for philosophy and religious studies. The number of students sitting for the religion exam dropped from 405 in 2013 (before psychology was introduced), to 227 in 2017; while the number sitting for the philosophy exam declined from 804 in 2013 to 361 in 2017.

The popularity of psychology contrasts with the unpopularity of other subjects in the same cluster: history, which is available at both Advanced and Intermediate level but is chosen by just 170 students, and geography, which is only chosen by 166 students.

Why is psychology popular?

Psychology at Intermediate level has been available to students since the 2012/13 academic year but was first assessed in May 2014.

Dr Olivia Galea Seychell, a senior lecturer who lectures psychology at Junior College, cited various reasons why psychology immediately “sparked an interest” in students.

“Psychology is seen as a subject giving students the opportunity for self-development,” she told MaltaToday.

“It is also seen as a good combination with other subjects irrespective of whether students have an inclination towards sciences and arts. The syllabus is also versatile and it gives the students a very good taster of what psychology entails.

“So a student who is interested in furthering her studies in psychology will gain a clear understanding of the subject. Whereas students who are more interested in other subjects and eventually branch in other professions see psychology as useful to their future career”.

For example, students interested in becoming doctors, teachers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, nurses, social workers, IT experts (to name a few), see that psychology at Intermediate level can provide them with insights and skills – such as an understanding of communication or psychological disorders – which they will surely use in their future careers.

The rising popularity of psychology is not a Maltese phenomenon.

A BBC News survey found psychology in the UK had also seen a spiral rise in choice and popularity among students. In 2014, more than 100,000 students registered for a UK psychology degree, and demand has been on a steady rise ever since. The prevalence of female students among students is also found in the UK where, at degree level, psychology has the second biggest gender divide after nursing, followed by social work, education and design.

But last year’s examiner report issued by the Maltese matriculation exam board (MATSEC) still sees room for self-improvement among students, especially in applying what they learn to their own life.

“While it is true to say that some candidates managed to assimilate knowledge of psychological theories, fewer candidates manifested the capacity to apply these theories to their own personal lives. Even fewer showed critical thinking and reflection, analysis, evaluation and synthesis of ideas, to unlock the power of psychological awareness for the well-being of one’s life.”

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