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The smallest member state of the EU, Malta, announced the publication of amendments to the Education Act last Monday 4th July 2016. Homeschooling was one of the new implementations announced by the Minister of Education. This was done to implement a promise that was done in June 2013, soon after the election of a Labour Government, in particular by the Prime Minister, Dr Joseph Muscat with Abigail Giuffre, a teacher and a mother who has been pushing for the introduction of homeschooling in Malta for the past four years. Then, the Minister of Education, Evarist Bartolo stated that homeschooling would be considered. Now, he has announced the introduction of homeschooling which can start taking place as from scholastic year 2017, with ‘special provisos’.
These include that the home educator holds a teacher’s warrant and that the parent has to apply to the Commission for General Education to be able to homeschool. Permission to homeschool will be issued by this Commission, after all the necessary conditions to homeschool are reached and after checking that the interests of the child will be safeguarded. Spot checks will be done along the school year to see what type of work is being done.
This issue received mixed reactions from the public. Some of the people are in favour, others not at all. A poll which was held on a local Maltese newspaper, where readers were asked to mark their preferences, had 50.7% who did not agree with homeschooling citing the reason that schools aided social development and that ultimately children needed to interact with other children, if possible, from all strata of society, rather than being cocooned with other homeschoolers like themselves.
The humanists, writing on blogs all over the portals of Maltese newspapers, are totally against this form of alternative education. They are arguing that the state is the most powerful authority and that it should keep its control over what children are taught. The backlash from others who are on the other side of the fence was vociferous. There were different reasons, but many cited that they were against the liberal policy being upheld by the government which includes young primary school age children learning about gender issues. Others commented that homeschooling was inevitable in a fast-changing world, and that this should be made an option to parents who either for religious or political reasons want to homeschool their children.
The reaction of private schools to the new proposal of homeschooling has been very lukewarm. They appear to be against homeschooling because they are seeing it as a threat to their intake of children. In a country, where the birth rate is very low, these schools have to compete against one another to attract new clients. Homeschooling appears as another competitor. Yet, these covert reasons are not openly stated. Instead, private schools joined the chorus of those against homeschooling and stated that their preoccupations were based on considerations related to the child’s social development. According to these schools, society has to be inclusive. Keeping children at home with no or little interaction with their peers does not give a holistic education to these children.
The debate is far from over, especially within those who support homeschooling in Malta, who have organised themselves through Facebook groups. The main worry for these parents right now, is the clause which states that who is homeschooling must have a regular teacher’s warrant. These people have found themselves in a quandary. They want to homeschool but cannot, unless they are a teacher themselves or employ a qualified teacher, which comes at a hefty price.
However, the fact that a teacher’s warrant is needed to teach, does not hinder groups of parents from setting up small private schools. It has also given the opportunity to foreign schools to set up business here in Malta. The Malta Free School is the first one which has advertised in the Homeschooling page on Facebook. It aims to start two classes ages 5–8 and 9–11, as from September 2017, when the homeschooling legislation comes into effect. It is offering child-centred teaching based on Montessori principles, and offering a holistic education embracing creativity, discovery and new technology. It remains to be seen how successful this school will be, and how many Maltese can afford to send their children to such a school when the fees are exorbitant when compared to the Maltese standard of living. This school is advertising itself to parents who do not want to send their children to the traditional school system, but can’t homeschool, because they are working or because they prefer their children to learn from a teacher and together with other kids. Thus, the concept of homeschooling in Malta will still not be implemented.
Maltese homeschooling is still on uncharted waters. One has to see how things will develop given the political background outlined above.
Antoinette Schembri is a PhD student at the University of Warwick, researching on homeschooling.