M. Pace

University of Malta, Faculty of Education (MALTA)
The number of school leavers in Malta who have no accredited certification in foreign language skills is on the increase. This notwithstanding the fact that they have studied these languages for a number of years, both at Primary as well as at Secondary level. This is very sad, even more so, in view of the fact that Malta’s economy is dependent on human resources and foreign trade, driven by financial services and tourism. Mastery in foreign languages is considered, in today’s world, not just an excellent tool to bridge gaps between people coming from different countries and to create strong sentimental and professional relationships, but above all an instrument that enables workers to considerably improve their career prospects.

A pertinent question worth posing and considering here is: why are so many students quitting languages at school? There may be various answers for this question.

Among the most common are:
(i) The perception that learning a language can be an important prerequisite for just a few;
(ii) Students very often see very little connection between what is taught in class and real life situations;
(iii) Students who in their first years of studying a language fail to grasp the basic concepts, find it very difficult, if not impossible, to keep the pace with the other students in their year group.

The Language Proficiency Assessment (LPA) programme introduced as from September 2014 keeps all this in mind and has the intent to set up a home-grown alternative assessment based on subject proficiency at levels 1, 2 and 3 of the Malta Qualifications Framework (MQF). It seeks to provide a clear description of what individuals ‘can do’ with language in terms of speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-world situations in a spontaneous and non-rehearsed context. The programme presents 3 levels of proficiency and describes what an individual can and cannot do with language at each level, regardless of where, when, or how the language is acquired.

This programme, which will eventually be offered on a national basis, will initially target students who normally would be at great risk of not obtaining a level-rated certification at the end of compulsory schooling. The intention is to offer these students the possibility of obtaining proficiency qualifications and certificates as an alternative route concurrent with that of Secondary Education Certificate (SEC). Form 3 students are being offered this programme on the basis of their demonstrated performance in the subject. Students will choose between SEC and LPA in consultation with their parents and teachers. Although one track does not necessarily exclude the other, those students who opt for LPA will start a Level 1 programme of studies in the particular language.. The examinations, which will be set at the national level, will consist of four different papers, one for each basic language skill, namely Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. The project aims to render the teaching & learning process more personal and relevant to the students’ needs with particular attention targeted at the level, motivation and ability of acquisition of students taking LPA.