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Title: 'State schools? Whatever for?!' Why some parents prefer private schools
Other Titles: Inside/outside schools : towards a critical sociology of education in Malta
Authors: Cilia, Daniela
Borg, Sonia
Keywords: Education -- Malta -- History
Private schools -- Malta
Public schools -- Malta
Education and state -- Malta
Issue Date: 1997
Publisher: Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd.
Citation: Cilia, D., & Borg, S. (1997). 'State schools? Whatever for?!' Why some parents prefer private schools. In R. G. Sultana (Eds.), Inside/outside schools : towards a critical sociology of education in Malta (pp. 223-250). San Gwann: Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd.
Abstract: The non-state sector in Malta caters for about 30% of students in compulsory education (Central Office of Statistics, 1997), despite the fact that the state is constitutionally obliged to - and capable of - providing a 'free' education for an. There are no major religious differences in Malta either, to the extent that state schools are not secular, as they are in Republican France for instance. Rather, religious lessons as well as rituals are very much part and parcel of everyday school life in both the state and the non-state sector, so that government schools can be considered to be, to all intents and purposes, Catholic schools . Since 1988, educational establishments in the non-state as well as the state sector are legally bound to provide the same National Minimum Curriculum, so that in theory at least, the difference in what is formally taught and tested in all primary, secondary and post-secondary educational establishments is slight, with practically all students sitting the same Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) and Matriculation examinations. Given the size of the island, there is only one tertiary level teacher training programme, and therefore all qualified teachers in schools come from the same 'mould', so to speak. Why, then, do some parents prefer to send their children to a private rather than a state school? Before we set about addressing this question, it is important to first of all give a brief overview of the context of private and state schooling in Malta during the last two decades and a half. Up to quite recently, most private schools were Church schools, with a good number of them having a long history, often dating back to the turn of the century, occasionally earlier. For a number of reasons, including national poverty, the pace of state formation, the reticence of the local monied class to subsidise mass education through a taxation system, and the fear of the clerico-professional elites of losing their hegemonic control through a wholesale attack on ignorance and superstition (see Sultana 1992, 1997 a and Chapter 2, this volume), state education provision lagged far behind the advances made on the continent, where free elementary education for all had been introduced since the middle of the nineteenth century. Universal and compulsory primary-level education was only introduced in Malta in 1946, and secondary education for all twenty four years later. Of course, primary schooling had developed along the years, particularly with the passing of the Compulsory Attendance Act of 1925 which obliged pupils who had started attending school to go on doing so. But there was always more demand (by parents) than supply (of school places). The Church was the main social actor with sufficient human and material resources to make up for the deficiency of the State. Though this aspect of Malta's educational history is still underdeveloped, one could attribute a complex set of motivations to Church activity in the formal educational sphere, an activity which goes back at least to the 16th century (Borg, 1974). Chief among these would be the need to cater and co-opt the children of the elite and the fulfillment of a social mission by providing educational opportunities for children from the indigent classes. When the setting up of a state education system was finally completed with the introduction of compulsory secondary education in 1970, and particularly with the election of a Labour government in 1971, private schooling faced a new set of challenges as its role became increasingly modified. Socialist ideology, placing a premium on equity, social mixing, and the contestation of the hegemonic power of the Catholic Church, tended to consider private schooling as a nest for the nurturance and reproduction of elites. Such a perception led to major confrontations in the eighties (see Koster, 1986; Montebello and Borg, 1989 for an account) with the State declaring an ultimatum stating that it would only tolerate private schooling if this was provided free of charge - a condition which, in effect, doomed most non-state schools to bankruptcy. The ultimatum was only withdrawn in the face of the mobilisation of thousands of parents who took to the streets in protest, with the State being obliged to capitulate in order to avoid further civil unrest and international political embarrassment. The charge of elitism brought at the door of the Catholic Church seems to have. left a mark, however, because by 1991, the Church had negotiated a settlement with a recently-elected Nationalist government whereby its schools would not charge tuition fees, in exchange for annual state aid. The government bound itself to pay the budgeted salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff together with an additional 10% for school needs, with the Church, on its part, remaining responsible for building, repair and maintenance of its schools and other capital expenditure. In return, the Church transferred much of its land holdings to the state, while generally regulating access to its schools by a socially more neutral lottery system. In other words, the names of applicants for Church schools are all placed in the same bag, and those drawn are offered a place. These do not pay fees, though donations are requested from parents on a regular . basis in order to make up for shortfalls in the budget. The introduction of this system did not prove to be universally popular and, partly as a result of this, some parents actually withdrew their support for Church schools and set up 'independent' schools as Foundations or as profit-making establishments. Given this necessarily brief contextualisation of the interplay between schools in the state and non-state sector, we can now turn to the research question already announced, namely: Why do some parents choose to send their children to fee-paying independent schools, or to Church schools where donations are a moral, if not a legal obligation, when state schools can offer an education service 'free of charge'? This is a timely question, given the competition there is for places in the private school sector, and with parents registering their as yet unborn children in independent schools for fear of missing out and having their children educated with 'the rest' in the state school of their town or village. It is also a timely investigation given the context of the declarations made by Malta's two major political parties that they want to make state schools the best on the island (Sultana, 1995, 1996).
ISBN: 9990900833
Appears in Collections:Inside/Outside Schools : towards a critical sociology of education in Malta

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