Integration of Young Muslims in Maltese Schools

Introduction

Education is participative and experiential process. That is why it should take into consideration cultural, historical and religious diversity. Nobody denies the fact that multicultural education is wide-spread nowadays, and its aim is to provide equality with the help of education and direct relationship between education and participation. However, there exists a thought that indeed multicultural education is the process that does not realize its goals, principles, and aims fully as it is difficult to provide education to the participants of the learning process when they are different in culture and religion. The task of education is to provide such kind of learning that will bring positive results to all students including multicultural ones. 

Education is the process that should guarantee integration in the society. It will be successful when the main values of the society are shared, approved and accepted by everyone. The concept of culture should be dynamic and have possibility to change. Nobody denies that fact that these two concepts “culture” and “education” are interrelated.

Multicultural education respects cultural, politic and historical backgrounds of the learner; however, the students whose culture is different from the country in which they study do not feel themselves confident. Education is the right approach to learning that is based on mutual respect, democratic values, and avoidance of discrimination and prejudice. This is very important when it comes to multicultural societies. It is education and respectful attitude that allow the student from another culture to feel as a part of society in spite of his/her cultural diversity and individual distinctions.

The main task of multicultural education is to create the atmosphere to respect the dignity of the migrant student, to take into consideration current social, political, cultural and economic practices, and avoid racism, discrimination, and exploitation. If education does not fulfill these objectives, it is becoming discriminative, abusing, immoral, and unethical one.

The education in Malta is based on the following principles: integration of Maltese youth with ethnic minorities and taking into consideration ethnic, cultural and historic background of the students. Indeed it is very important to develop not only educational methods and improve learning techniques, it is also necessary to protect multiethnic groups from prejudice and ignorance. Nowadays Maltese schools aim to improve educational programs in order to provide successful acquisition of knowledge by all students. 

Maltese education system gives opportunity to everybody to lean despite ethical, cultural, and religious views. Education and culture should be available to all people as only educated citizens can contribute to development of  Malta. However, it is not a simple task. Cultural differences in one country can cause religious, cultural, and ethical discussions. Everything begins with education. That is why it is important that there are no conflicts and discussions between teacher and student because of cultural or religious differences in school. Without doubt, the main features of education should be intellectual freedom, democracy, and tolerance. Respect of political, social, ethical, and religious views is the indicator of intelligence, development and democracy of the country.

One can find basic required elements for the education process in the document that is called the National Minimum Curriculum. It provides methods of achieving educational objectives. The Maltese National Minimum Curriculum states that parents have the right to decide if their children should be exposed to specific cultural and religious instructions or not. In Malta, there is freedom of choice as Muslims can object to receiving and learning Catholic religion.

The National Minimum Curriculum is respectful of multicultural students and an inclusive education. It creates stable learning environment and develops and supports individual expression and diversity. These methods of education protect freedom of religious practices and cultural expression and allow to develop personality. Without doubt, these objectives can protect Muslim youth from cultural and religious discrimination and from the influence of strange culture and religion. These are also important tools for teaching communication skills.

Maltese education engaged in the following reforms and developments: decentralization, planning, school development planning, performance management programs, literacy, creative thinking, kindergartens, inclusive education, complementary education, personal and social education, student support services, technology education, information technology, evening classes and adult education, schools-industry, school cooperatives, upgrading and rehabilitation of educational institutions.

Education in Malta is based on freedom of choice. Every person can follow any religion he/she wants. The choice of every person is important, unique, and is respected. Every person is treated fairly and kindly in spite of his/her cultural background and religious beliefs. The main principle of education is that one can learn and get something new from everyone. One is free to make choice and is responsible for this choice.

Education for children of migrants is regulated in Malta by the government. All children of migrants have to get compulsory free education and they are always supported in learning official languages and Maltese culture and language.

Moreover, the Maltese education is constantly facing the dilemma of how to adapt its system to foreign immigrants such as Muslims. Indeed, it is very hard, which cannot be solved immediately. It is a long process. Students that belong to different minorities should be included in an inclusive and friendly environment. Schools should avoid stereotyped paradigms and models including innovative methods.

The Integration of Young Muslims in Maltese Schools

With every passing year, European Union is experiencing great changes in population diversity. There are a lot of people of different nations, cultures, and religions from all over the world who move to Europe to live or to work. Without doubt, these people also bring their culture, traditions, and customs to European countries.

Malta is the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, and that is why it is not strange that it has become a place for those who come to this country to find safety, peace, or freedom. There exists a perception that Malta is welcoming and safe for immigrants, that is why they always stay there.

Malta is a member of European Union and a lot of small minorities live there, including Muslims. Muslims in Malta belong to a small minority, which amounts to around 3000 persons. Among them there are a lot of immigrants who are Maltese people born in Muslim families. The urgent and the most tremendous problem in Malta is education. In the Constitution one can find that religion of Malta is the Roman Catholic Apostolic. The authorities of the Maltese Church can teach what is right and what is wrong.

Maltese educational system is built on Christian values. This means that beliefs of other students, for example Islamic ones, are respected and secured. Children from another cultural background always learn at the same school with the rest of students and are expected to integrate with them. It is necessary to mention that Maltese educational system is in the process of change, which aims to help Muslim students adapt and integrate with Maltese students. Nobody denies that fact that Muslim students really need these changes as they have absolutely different cultural background.

Muslims living in Malta face not only educational barriers, but also social ones that influence their lives, lifestyles, and behaviors. Without doubt, these social barriers can prevent Muslims from successful integration with Maltese students at schools and may make them feel discriminated and underestimated. They can also become the victims because of their different views, religion, and culture. As we see the process of integration of Muslims is long and difficult.

Despite the difficulties, Maltese education tries to help Muslims adapt to its system. There is no imposing of religion and culture, Muslims have the right of choice, and this is very important. At present time they are in search for solutions to avoid cultural and religious barriers. However, in my opinion, it is too hard as culture and religion are in people's minds, it is something inborn, it is something that is given to people at birth. To change culture and religion means to change the person completely.

Religion and culture are included in the course of studying at school. That is why it is important to avoid conflicts and confrontations concerning these questions. Maltese education has an aim to develop learning methods and techniques in order not to harm Muslims' beliefs and to create multicultural dialogue that will be based on mutual respect and understanding.

Muslim culture and beliefs are absolutely different from those of Christians. That is why Muslim youth need tolerant attitude and special attention at schools. It is very important for teachers in schools to avoid conflict situations, and when they occur, one should use specific preventive measures. Maltese schools provide cultural training courses in order to help Muslim youth to retain their identity. Not less important is arranging special courses for Islamic youth where they can learn everything about their country, culture, and religion.

Integration of Muslims in Maltese education will be successful in the case when it is based on cross-cultural perspective. Cross-cultural perspective is comparing of one culture with another culture. The task of cross-cultural perspective is to study and analyze growth of other cultures and compare this development across cultures. The comparison implies not only finding differences between cultures but also similarities among them. It is necessary to analyze culture and observe the context of that culture.

Cross-cultural studies give the opportunity to penetrate into the culture and compare it with another culture increasing one's appreciation of that culture and of his own culture. It is possible to say that Maltese educational systems is based on cross-cultural perspective and on tolerant attitude to Muslim youth and their cultural beliefs. It means that when people respect each other's culture and religion, there will be no conflicts and misunderstandings.

It was already mentioned that the Catholic religion is practiced by most Maltese while the Muslim religion is practiced by a small minority. However, regardless of the fact that Muslims are the minority group in Malta, there are also schools where Muslims can be educated in their native cultural and religious traditions. Indeed, the multicultural situation in Malta is really amazing as Maltese schools offer a wonderful educational program with a rich mix of faiths, cultures, and civilizations.

In Malta, there are also a lot of cross-cultural families. Absorbing a new culture is like starting a complete new life and experiencing things that others do not have the opportunity to discover. Cross-cultural families enrich their lives because they learn about each other's language, habits, traditions, food, etc. Being in relationships with a person from another culture gives a unique opportunity to gain a new perspective, develop a new worldview, and grow as an individual. Children brought up in cross-cultural families are more intelligent because very often they know two languages and two cultures.

Maltese schools make important spiritual, emotional, and cultural contribution bringing together Maltese and Muslim cultures and religions together. Common studying at school of Maltese and Muslim youth brings them together, help them share their experience and encouragement that ensure mutual respect and cooperation among international students.

Democracy at schools

A democratic way of education is what every developed country looks for. In fact, the term “democracy” becomes vague if the national majority does everything in favor of major groups disregarding the same right of minor groups for the same social amenities. In this respect starting from the young groups of citizens up to the adults, the issue of a democratic development at schools remains still unanswered. The feature of multinational and cultural diversity is, perhaps, what makes the majority angry or annoyed in a way. However, facts are stubborn thing, and it means that the concept of democracy is still to be widely evaluated for all groups living on the same territory of a definite country.

In case with Malta, a deep evaluation of a democratic stability in terms of schools is really vital for all ethnic and religious groups of students. John Dewey admits in his study “that knowledge (curricula) should be based on the principle of the development of a common intelligence through a process of a continued dialogue between the members of a society, in order to convert it into a Community” (Cited in Shuali, 2012, p. 1). The power of people encompasses the interests of all members of the society or community they live in. It would be unfair to state on a particular demand from one group of students if it directly offends another group(s) of students. Each opinion is to be taken into consideration so that to keep up with the best traditions of democracy as it should be.

There should be an open dialogue between different groups of the student community so that Maltese Muslim students and other ethnic and religious groups could feel a particular understanding on the part of the major groups concerning their values which can co-exist with the widely approved views on ethnicity and religion. This is what Dewey calls “a guaranteed integration into society without having to renounce one’s values” (Cited in Shuali, 2012, p. 1). In this vein, democracy encourages the diversity of different opinions bearing in mind their peaceful and liberal nature. It is also referred to Maltese students who are (like in every country of the world) the mainspring of the sociopolitical development of the local society.

Thus, an appropriate ethnic, cultural, and religious education is ideally drawn in the contemporary world practice for all students placed in a multinational community of peers. To make it plain and in accordance with the UNESCO Declaration on Intercultural Education (2006), the Maltese educational authority should keep it in mind that “Intercultural Education respects the cultural identity of the learner through the provision of culturally appropriate and responsive quality of education for all” (Cited in Shuali, 2012, p. 2).

Equality at schools

Another significant feature at schools where multinationalism is obvious is the feeling of equality throughout the student community and between students and educational staff. Close to the term of democracy, this feature admits an equal distribution of everything a school or some other educational establishments can offer irrespectively of not only ethnic, cultural, and religious belonging, but also according to gender, age, and sexual orientation attributes. Otherwise, there is nothing to do with understanding of what it is like to be an equal representative of a definite community.

 One of the most eminent and ardent supporters of the multicultural education, James Banks, notes in his own research that the idea of equality among students at school should be realized and put into action not only through education, but also through participation (Shuali, 2012). Schools in Malta have to encourage students to participate in different circles, clubs, and other activities during or after classes. It makes students believe in their talents, and, therefore, realize an even distribution of teachers’ attention to all students with no exception. However, this approach is a starting point while moving toward the goal of equality. Shuali (2012) pays attention to the opinion of James Banks that educational approach toward equality is characterized by means of three points, namely:

…as a concept, as a reform movement that tries to introduce the change from the institutional perspective, and, most importantly, he considered multicultural education as an ongoing process “whose goals will never be fully realized” and explains that “Educational equality, just like liberty and justice, are ideals towards which human beings work but never fully attain (p. 2).

Given that, even though the idea of a fully equal school environment still sounds like utopia, Maltese schools should encourage it throughout the educational process as one of the main prerequisites for further positive development of Muslim, Christian, and other students. The goal of any education perspective is to gain knowledge. However, it is reachable at a frantic pace when equality is well maintained throughout all educational establishments in the country.

A complex relationship of interaction among students should be ethically grounded, because ethics serves as a code of conduct for each and every student with no exception for any reason (Shuali, 2012). If this norm is violated, then there is no way to talk about equality either for Maltese Muslim students or for any other group(s). Bearing it in mind, equality in a multinational school environment is a so-called accelerator of the entire progress in education for any student. This is why following a democratic way of educational promotion; there should be a well established basis for ensuring equality for students.

Conclusions

In conclusion, it is necessary to say that education is participative and experiential process. That is why it should take into consideration cultural diversity. Nobody denies the fact that multicultural education is wide-spread nowadays, and its aim is to provide equality with the help of education and direct relationship between education and participation.

Education in Malta is based on freedom of choice. Every person can follow any religion he/she wants. The choice of every person is important, unique, and is respected. Every person is treated fairly and kindly regardless of his/her cultural background and religious beliefs.  The main principle of education is that one can learn and get something new from everyone. One is free to make choice and is responsible for this choice.

Unfortunately, we are living in a cruel world of conflict, intolerance, and discrimination. That is why it is important to understand each other and respect cultures and traditions in order to create the foundation for a lasting world peace.

The main task of multicultural education is to create the atmosphere of respect the dignity for the migrant student, to take into consideration current social, political, cultural, and economic practices, and to avoid racism, discrimination, and exploitation. If education does not fulfill these objectives, it is becoming discriminative, abusive, immoral, and unethical.

Cross-cultural studies give the opportunity to penetrate into the culture and compare it with another culture increasing one's appreciation of that culture and of their own. As it was proved, Maltese educational systems is based on cross-cultural perspective and on tolerant attitude to Muslim youth and their cultural beliefs. It means that when people respect each other's culture and religion, there will be no conflicts and misunderstanding.

Maltese schools make important spiritual, emotional, and cultural contribution towards bringing together Maltese and Muslim cultures and religions together. The collective studying at school of Maltese and Muslim youth brings them together, helps them share their experience and encouragement. This provides mutual respect and cooperation among international students.