Integration of Young Muslims in Maltese Schools
Malta is a country in Southern Europe and a member state of the European Union. It is a neighbor to Italy and Libya. The country was once a British colony. The principal religion of Malta is Roman Catholic where 91% of the population is Catholics. Muslims are a minority group in Malta. It is also crucial to note that not all Muslims in Malta are of Arab origin. There is also a growing number of Maltese who practice the Islamic faith. The Maltese government obliges to offer equality to all Maltese people. Maltese Muslims work, have families, pay taxes, and are respected citizens. Muslims in Malta have the right to live as equal citizens as the majority. Maltese people do not know the basic principles of Muslims hat include; praying 5 times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan and women wearing the ‘hijab’.
There is racial and religious discrimination in Malta affecting the discriminated in employment, education, housing, healthcare and political participation. The Maltese people do not understand Muslims. They refer all Arabs, North Africans, illegal immigrants as “foreign and Muslim”. All these terms mean the same to the Maltese people. Majority of people have a negative connotation to the term Muslims; believing that Muslims and Arabs are terrorists. It, therefore, becomes difficult for Muslims to integrate with the majority even in schools. The objective of the European Union is to promote justice and equality in all member states. This is not the case in Malta especially when it comes to education. Young Muslims are finding it difficult to integrate into Maltese schools.
Maltese Education System
The Maltese education system follows the British model because of its roots f being a British colony. The education system consists of 6 years of Primary school from age 5 to 11; 5 years of secondary school from age 11 to 16 and tertiary education. There are three types of schools in Malta; the pubic or state schools, the private or independent and the church administered schools. Education is free and compulsory up to the secondary level except in the private schools. Kindergarten for the 3 to 5 year olds is free but not compulsory. The standard of education is low compared to other European Union member states with 425 of students finishing with the minimum level of education. Religious education is a core subject in all schools. However public schools only cater for Christians. During these 1 hour classes, Muslims must leave the class, as there is no alternative lesson for them. Research indicates that 54% of students are Christians; 25% Muslims and 21% to be other religions.
Muslims also suffer bullying and discrimination from teachers and other non-Muslim students especially in public schools. Muslim students face stigma and prejudice while attending school. Public Primary and Secondary schools teach in Maltese and English, and both languages are compulsory. Private schools and the University use English to teach. Secondary students choose to learn Italian and French as a first foreign language. The school system emphasizes on the Catholic faith implying that the Muslim faith is inferior. The students become prejudiced at an early age and increases discrimination in schools. Many Maltese people see Muslims as inferior.
Many studies on the education system and minority groups in Malta have been done. The Maltese government needs to take certain measures for young Muslims to be integrated in Maltese schools. Teachers need more information about the different cultures and religions in Malta. Malta has seen an influx of immigrants from Libya, Tunisia and Egypt in recent years. These people come from different cultures and religions. There is an increase in the Arab speaking community in Malta. School textbooks should be open-minded towards religion and different cultures.
Islam should be recognized as a religion. Lessons in Islam need to be incorporated to enable Muslim students to take Islam lesson while fellow students are taking Christian lessons. Arabic should be taught in public schools to enable students to read the Quran. Islam is a religion just like any other and Muslims should not be discriminated due to Muslim extremists involved in terrorism activities. New education programmers need to be introduced to avoid racism in schools. Schools should respond to the cultural differences in their schools and this will improve the integration of Muslim students. The Maltese school population has diverse cultures, speaking different languages; schools should introduce language classes to cater for multilingual students. Teacher training should incorporate the different culture and religions in Malta. The university should offer courses, degrees and diplomas on Islam to help the majority of Maltese to respect Muslims.
The Role of Government and the European Union
The government recognizes the problem of Muslims integrating into Maltese schools and through a legal notice 259 of 2002 addressed the issue. The notice legislated that ‘all children of migrants within the compulsory school age group (5 to 16 years) have the right to compulsory free education and to other provisions. The legislation, contemplates, including support for the learning of any of the official languages and the teaching of the language and culture of the country of origin of immigrant children’ (Eurydice Integrating Immigrant Children into Schools in Europe – Malta: National Description 2003/04).
Malta as a member state of the European Union has to adhere to all European Union Directive. The European Union acknowledges the issue of racism and xenophobia in member states due to the multi ethnic diversity of the population of member states. It has created a centre that deals with the problem in order to offer solutions that member states must implement. However, Malta does not follow these directives and orders from the Union. Reports indicate that Malta does not ensure equitable provision for minorities in education policies. There is no effort to implement policies that would ensure effective integration of minorities in Maltese schools, encourage diversity and multi- cultural participation.
NGO’s and Community organizations working within ethnic and religious minorities are beginning to have an impact on the problem of integration into the Maltese society. The NGO’s recognize that Malta does not accept the immigrants as they feel that immigrants are in transition and will never be part of the Maltese people. This attitude makes it difficult for immigrants to integrate into the community. The NGO’s and Government have worked together in coming up with policies that protect the rights of the religious minority.
Young Muslims find it difficult to integrate in Maltese schools. Maltese are predominantly Catholic and do not recognize the Islamic faith. The Maltese people are prejudiced and view Muslims as inferior. Muslims face stigma and prejudice in schools and even at work. The Maltese people make many any assumptions about Muslims. They believe that all Arabs, North Africans. Immigrants are Muslims. The western influence and issue of terrorism deepens the problem of prejudice and racism against Muslims in Malta. Schools need to make the necessary changes to embrace diversity in their schools. Teachers require more information and training about the different cultures and religions. Schools need to cater for multilingual students by teaching different foreign languages.
The Religious Education should include Islam to accommodate Muslims students when other students are learning Christian Religious Education. The Maltese Government needs to be more committed to implementing directives from the European Union to promote justice and equality among minority groups. The European Union and NGO’s continue to work together with the Maltese Government to solve the problem of the Muslim minority in order to foster justice and equality amongst the Maltese people. Malta is a member state of the European Union. It must adhere to the directives and regulations of the Union. There is hope for the young Muslims to integrate into Maltese schools with the efforts of the Government, NGO’s and the European Union. This will work if the Maltese become open minded and accept other communities as equal and diverse. All Muslims in Malta should be treated as equal in education, employment, access to products and services and political participation.