Evarist Bartolo makes case to Cabinet for online Maltese spellchecker

Evarist Bartolo said that failure to do so, would accelerate the rate at which Maltese becomes ‘digitally extinct’

A Maltese spellchecker would be essential to encourage the use of the Maltese language in the digital sphere
A Maltese spellchecker would be essential to encourage the use of the Maltese language in the digital sphere

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo has made an impassioned appeal to Cabinet in which he argued that government should fund the development of an online spellchecker in Maltese, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Monday.

Muscat was speaking during a visit to a workshop organised by the National Literacy Agency for primary school students, where he spoke about the importance of programmes aimed at developing students’ communication skills.

“I don’t think I’m going to be revealing any state secret by saying that the Education Minister was some weeks ago very vocal about the need for government, in one way or the other, to invest in the country having a spellchecker,” Muscat said.

He added that this would require a substantial amount of investment but was “an indispensable tool in encouraging more people to use the Maltese language when using word processors”.  

Speaking ahead of the Prime Minister, Bartolo also stressed on the importance of such a tool, arguing that many were put off because they were uncertain about how to spell certain words.

“Some people are afraid to use Maltese digitally because they are afraid of making a mistake,” Bartolo said.

He noted that Maltese, together with Lithuanian, Icelandic and Finnish, was one of the languages that risked becoming “digitally extinct” unless measures were taken to facilitate its use online.

To achieve this goal, he said that, in addition to having a Maltese spellchecker, the country also needed an Official Languages Act about the use of Maltese and English, both traditionally and in the digital sense, and which went beyond the reference to Maltese and English in the Constitution.

Furthermore, he said it was also essential to increase the presence of Maltese in online resources, such as Wikipedia.

Bartolo stressed that efforts aimed at Malta gaining a foothold in advanced sectors like blockchain and artificial intelligence would be in vain if the students didn’t learn the skills necessary to succeed, at a young age.

€1.2 million in books donated to schools 

The head of the National Literacy agency, David Muscat, said the agency organised a number of programmes aimed at increasing literacy.

He said that some were aimed at instilling a love for reading and writing in children from a very young age, as well as others aimed at older children.

One of the agency’s greatest achievement he said was the distribution of books in a number of schools around the island. Muscat said that over €1.2 million had been invested and had seen some 100 books donated to each class.

He said the programme has been so successful that the agency was looking to expand it to non-state schools. 

The agency, he added, was also reaching some 4,000 families a month, through story telling events held in public libraries, gardens and other public places, as well as offering intervention programmes such as the agency’s reading recovery.

He said that through the programme, some 100 students had been given individual attention and had, over a period of 20 weeks, become independent and no longer required help reading.

Finally, Muscat said the agency was working to develop more teaching tools in Maltese by teaming up with publishers to convert resources developed by teachers into digital books and educational games.