Learning the Basics
Alas, life in Malta cannot consist of family outings and fun 24/7. Parents still need to provide for their children’s education. In total, there are 35 daycare centers, many of them located in the North Harbor region.
You can find free, state-run kindergartens for three- to five-year-old children in most communities. Over 90% of all Maltese children in that age range do attend kindergarten. However, only 3,578 children received formal childcare in 2016 and many attend church schools instead. Since nearly everybody in Malta is bilingual (90% can speak English), the language barrier will not be much of a problem as long as your kid has some basic English skills.
At the age of five, pupils in Malta start elementary school. The official primary curriculum lasts for six years and mainly includes the following subjects: Maltese, English, math, social studies, and religious education. The latter reflects the huge influence of Catholicism on Malta’s society, but expat parents should know that it’s an opt-out subject which non-national kids don’t have to participate in.
Broadening the Horizon
When turning eleven, kids in Malta used to take the Eleven plus exam in their last year of elementary education. The results of this examination would determine which students could attend the academically prestigious junior lyceum. However, due to recent reforms, the Eleven plus was replaced by a national end-of-primary test for purposes of benchmarking general academic progress. The junior lyceum is being phased out, and most Maltese kids now go to a lower secondary school in their catchment area.
Secondary education is mandatory for students aged between 11 and 16. The first two years of lower secondary have a broader general focus, while years three to five then introduce specialization by means of elective subjects. The secondary curriculum consists of classes in math, Maltese, English, other foreign languages (Arabic, French, German, Italian, or Spanish), science (especially physics and computer science), history, social studies, geography, religious education (which remains optional for expat kids), arts, music, and PE. This well-rounded education should prepare students for the MATSEC exam at the age of sixteen. Alternatively, students can choose to take O Level Exams, where passing in Math, English, a science subject, Maltese and a foreign language is essential.
Afterwards, older teens can enroll in vocational degree courses at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology or the Institute of Tourism Studies. The more academically minded may go for two more years of upper secondary, offered by a handful of state-run schools in Malta. The so-called “junior college” makes them fit for higher education, especially at the University of Malta, and it ends with an examination loosely based on the International Baccalaureate, the Matriculation Certificate.
State Schools vs. Private Schools
Expat families on a budget benefit from access to Malta’s free education as provided by state schools. However, Maltese plays a far greater role in most public schools, which may hamper your kids’ academic progress. About 30% of all students in Malta are sent to private schools, run either by the Catholic Church or several independent organizations. Private schools have the obvious advantage that their medium of instruction is almost exclusively English.
At both state schools and private institutions, though, your children are required to attend Maltese classes (taught at native speaker level) and to take the secondary exam in Maltese. If you know that your time as expats in Malta will be over before your kids turn sixteen, this is mostly an unavoidable nuisance.
But if your sixteen-year-old cannot sit the national exam in a language he or she may hardly speak, international schools are the only way out. Currently, there are only a few in Malta, the Verdala International School, St Edward’s College, RBSM International Boarding School and QSI Malta. Like all other private schools, they demand tuition fees and have only a limited number of places available.