Arts and matriculation: FAIL

An edited version of this post was published on www.timesofmalta.com.

So the advanced and intermediate matriculation results were published yesterday. I won’t go into detail about the worrying figures with respect to traditional subjects like maths and Maltese, because the excellent editorial on today’s Times of Malta said it all.

I will, instead, focus on a less popular aspect of said results. If the results for traditional subjects are worrying, those for the creative and performance arts are… mind-boggling.

The amount of students who took art at advanced level was 98. Three got a Grade A. 18 students took music at advanced level; only three made the top grade. No data for theatre was provided.

At an intermediate level, 28 students took art and only 1 got a Grade A. Four students took music and 32 took theatre. None of them received a top grade.

Hardly numbers that reflect the Valletta 2018 ethos that is currently taking over Malta.

The immediate reaction of many will be to wonder why I’m making a fuss about subjects that are unfortunately still considered ‘extras’, for want of a better word – when clearly, there are more than enough problems within the traditional academic subjects.

I feel that such an attitude is short-sighted. It is a fact that some students are instinctively more geared towards traditional academics, while others are more geared towards the creative arts.

It is also a fact that the days when the creative arts were considered a professional deadend are gone. Malta itself offers opportunities for full-time instruction at tertiary level, through the excellent School of Performing Arts. Visual arts are likewise catered for both at tertiary level and at Mcast.

Up till relatively recently, students with an aptitude for the arts were faced with the reality that the only way to qualify academically and at a high level in their chosen area, they needed to leave our shores.

Needless to say, this wasn’t a viable financial solution for everyone, which meant that a career in the arts was out of the question for many. Nowadays this reality has changed, with an array of degrees and diplomas offered locally at university and even at privately-run colleges.

EU membership and ease of travel has also made the international market more accessible. The number of Maltese artists who are successfully pursuing their profession away from Malta continues to increase.

Given all this, where are we going wrong? The matriculation statistics with respect to this sector does not reflect the reality of what is out there. Our private theatre, dance and arts schools are packed with young students who are willing to learn.

In view of this, I can scarcely believe that only 28 students were interested in art at advanced level, only 18 in music and only 32 in theatre. Why isn’t the enthusiasm that clearly exists at a private level also being translated to the official curriculum?

Can it be that these subjects are still not being given the importance they deserve by guidance counsellors, teachers and school administrators, and that the official approach remains very much on the lines of “don’t bother too much about them, those are extra?”

If this is not the source of the problem, can it be that the matriculation version of these subjects is not as useful as it could be, and that this makes students unmotivated? And if this is this case, why is nothing being done to address this issue?

Even then, there remains an even more worrying issue to address. Out of those who did take this subject, how come the vast majority performed so poorly?

Perhaps, an indication of how students of privately-run arts schools in Malta fare when taking examinations that are not part of the matriculation system might enlighten us.

From what I see around me, these students tend to give a good showing when sitting for exams that yield internationally-recognised qualifications.

So what is going wrong with the matriculation exams? Are the poor results a question of curriculum, of teachers or of student commitment?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the arts are not yet being given the official importance they deserve, and that a thorough overhaul is needed. At post-secondary level, we cannot keep relying on private tuition and education systems with respect to the arts.

Otherwise why bother blowing our trumpets over V18?

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