To switch or not to switch?

So believe it or not, over the past few days there has actually been something else on my mind other than the operation. Because in my life, things seem to happen all at once. Yesterday wasn’t only the day I got sent home from hospital, it was also the day of Church School ballots which, if you’re Maltese you know all about, if not, you’re probably like – “Come again?”

Essentially, in  Malta there are three types of schools – government schools, Church schools, and private schools. In  the past, the latter two were pretty much one and the same thing, in fact only a couple of truly independent private schools existed on the island, with Church schools being run yes by the Church and its various congregations, but operating pretty much like an independent school would operate, including when it came to admissions. One couldn’t simply roll up the (usually impressive) driveway of a church school and enlist their child. Unless you were somehow connected (whether a past pupil, or friends/relatives with a current one, or somebody reputed to be ‘of importance’), the likelihood of you getting in were slim to none. So all in all, not a very meritocratic system whatsoever.

Disclosure: I myself went to a Church school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart, and I got a fantastic education. Our teachers were interested and invested in us. Our headmaster was the cool sort (he in fact once cycled all the way to Malta from the UK on a solar-powered bike he built himself) and encouraged us to embrace our civil rights. I participated in my first sit-in at school, one the headmaster himself instigated!

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Nail-biting moments for some parents were the order of the day yesterday

As a result, somewhere down the line, Church authorities decided to shake things up and the ballot system was born. This is meant to level the playing field for everyone (whether it does or not is still questioned by those who prefer to believe in conspiracy theories). So at a specific point in the year, Facebook forums go wild, smses start being sent left right and centre, as anxious parents begin to enquire whether the time is right to enlist their children in the lottery. The process itself is three-fold:

  1. Depending on your child’s year of birth, you turn up at a specific location on a given day and time and register your child (against a nominal fee) for the lottery.
  2. Following this, the lottery actually takes place on another day.
  3. If your child makes it through (places are limited and demand always exceeds supply), you have one week (yes, ONE WEEK) from the date of the lottery to chose the school of choice from those available for your kid and, on another specific day and time, you turn up to declare your chosen preference, hoping there are still places left at that particular school.

So all in all, quite a lengthy and contorted process.

Now – the main question that arises in my mind is: why on earth does education, the most important cornerstone of future humanity, have to be so complicated? Why can’t I simply just send my kid to the local area school as many in Europe do? The HUGE majority, in fact. Of course, there are many here too who do just that, choose to send their kids to the town/village government school. Usually, you’ll find, it’s people who themselves have been to a government school. Just like those who went to a Church school tend to choose that for their kids, while those who went to an independent school (or enjoyed the elitism of church schools back in the day) opt for a private school nowadays, of which Malta has seen a proliferation through the years. [There is, clearly, a financial decision behind certain decisions too. But there’s no point in thinking that over – if one’s education is determined by a financial reality, there isn’t much one can do about that.] There’s also the obvious secular/non-secular side of the argument when it comes to choosing a government/independent school versus a Church school, although there is still a very present element of religion in all (or most) schools.

Certainly, the debates online are interesting, with most parents resolutely defending their little corner of choice and bringing out standard arguments such as “well I went to a government/church/private school [delete as necessary] and I turned out ok”. And yet they seldom manage to shine any light on the argument. I have never read such a discussion and been swayed one way or the other. Why? Because there really is NO evidence or scientific research into which school IS best. Society’s leaders come from all walks of life, from all sorts of educational backgrounds. As do crooks.

Is there such a thing as the best school to start with?

I don’t think so. I think the answer simply is which school is best for your child and your family. Which educational approach is one you can tune in to, are you a parent who thinks children need a firm hand and rigid guidelines, or are you a parent who thinks children should be left to play for much of their childhood? Likelihood is you won’t get along with each other and you’re probably better off choosing different schools for your kids! Do you place more importance on formal education? What type of values do you think your child should be exposed to? Do you want a co-ed or single-sex education for your kid?

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Pope Francis – a prime example of Ignatian spirituality

And so it is that I checked the ballot listings this morning to see whether my son’s number was high enough in the list to give us the very difficult task of deciding whether to remove him from his current (private) school to send him to our Church school of choice. Because, yes, there was ONE church school I was truly interested in because it is grounded in Ignatian spirituality which I have so come to admire through the years (despite not being schooled or learned in it in reality). A spirituality which focuses on helping the most vulnerable in society nowadays, something which I think this world sorely, sorely, sorely needs.

I wished, truth be told, that the decision had been taken away from me and for once, my wish was heeded! His number was far too high for him to be admitted to St Aloysius College next October.

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Because education is not only ABCs

And so, he will remain at the school which his father and I spent many weeks choosing, a school we are so happy with, where he is truly cared for (as is his entire family in this time of need), and where he has learnt so much already at the tender age of three! A school which practices diversity and acceptance in very practical terms.

And as for anything else, his father and I can supplement through the years because let’s not forget, parents are just as important educators in the school of life!

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