Malti or English? Maltese or Ingliz?

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The Maltese-English debacle has long been a topic of debate amongst us Maltese citizens. While not everyone would admit it, we all know of the existing divide that exists between the so called “true patriots” who believe that the native language should be the epitome of all languages, the “others” who think that English should be spoken along with Maltese, and the “extremists” who claim that English must be the sole tongue of the country.

As a language-lover, I find such issues both intriguing and ludicrous at the same time. First of all, I cannot fathom and get to grips with the classist mentality that still reigns among us which dictates that English speakers should be labelled as snobs or stuck-up, while people who insist in communicating only in Maltese are glued to the lower levels of the social ladder. It may seem far-fetched to think that anybody would still have this mentality in the 21st century, but I can still hear echoes of the words “hamalli” and “tal-pepe” resonating around social spheres on a daily basis. A stern reality-check seems is in order.
Drawing a parallel between the language you speak and a person’s social status or character is not as feasible an argument as it was a couple of decades ago, with the notorious “language question” which dominated the political sphere on the islands.

These “titles” lead to the unnecessary division between Maltese and English speakers. Although finding the middle road is ideal, one should be judged for choosing to converse in one particular language. English is often considered as more polite than Maltese but, in reality, one can be well mannered in either language. It all depends on how you carry yourself.

Such a division between the two languages is also evident at educational institutions. As a law student, I find it quite ironic that the main language that is used during our studies is English, in order to be able to cater for foreign students, but when we graduate and have to put our studies into practice, the official language used in the Courts is Maltese. Although this may seem to superficial example, the truth of the matter is that lawyers are expected to speak fluent Maltese. This is easier said than done because even though we are exposed to everyday Maltese, professional jargon is different. Since we are not introduced properly to this in our course, newly graduated students will find this task far from easy.

Perhaps another sensitive subject for Maltese people is the ‘language’ popularly known as ‘pepe’. The latter originated through the mashing up of Maltese and English. I cordially advise the speakers of this language to make a decision regarding which language they are comfortable in. Maltese and English are two diverse languages and even though they are both official languages, they should never be confused with one another. I would also like to clarify that people who shift to English just for a moment, to better express themselves, do not classify as speakers of the above-identified language.

This brings us to the identity aspect surrounding this dispute. A recent survey clearly illustrates that the Maltese population feel more united through the national language than religion. In fact, two-thirds of the respondents specifically stated that our mother tongue is part of the anatomy which makes us such a distinct population. On the contrary, bilingualism did not top the list of cultural identifiers. It is not sufficient to solely be proud of your language; you must practice what you preach. For Mikiel Anton Vassalli’s sake, do not distort the Maltese language into something unrecognisable, regardless of the increasing popularity of English due to its practicability and universality.

Malta is considered by the European Union as a country priding in being bilingual and sometimes even trilingual (if you introduce Italian to the picture). Despite these so-called linguistic skills, last year’s SEC annual examination reports paint a different picture since students are still seem to find the English Language exam quite challenging. In fact, the majority sitting for Paper A managed to obtain a grade of 3 or 4 whilst 619 from the 2216 students opting for Paper B got an Unclassified result. If you think that such statistics are appalling, take a look at the Maltese examination report. There was a higher failing rate in the latter than the former. If we want to be classified as bilingual, we need to keep up appearances and make that statement credible.

The debate between Maltese and English will not cease anytime soon. Both languages should be given their due importance. The beauty of Maltese should not be overlooked even though we are increasingly moving away from using Maltese and shifting to English. We must be pioneers of our national language and not ignore its use completely due to the mentality that English is more refined. Each and every language has its own characteristic features and Maltese should not be treated inferiorly to other native tongues. Even Gibberish is considered as a way of communication, why should we be ashamed of our language?

Posted in Data, Opinion, Other

My STEPS Experience: Masters in Biomedical Engineering

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From September 2012 till September 2013, I carried out a Masters in Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London. I was able to accomplish the degree thanks to a STEPS scholarship that is part financed by the European Social Fund.

The course was a taught course and it had four streams. I chose the Biomechanics stream. There were various modules covering the vast field of Biomedical Engineering. These included the application of engineering principles to the human body on a macroscopic level, bones and muscles, as well as at cellular level. Other modules involved various biomaterial and their interaction and effect on the human body. The course also covered a number of medical devices including everything from imaging technologies, to surgical tools and implants.

My thesis was titled: “Design and Development of a Novel Implant for Lower Limb Trans-diaphysial amputations”, and was supervised by Professor Anthony Bull. The thesis was carried out in a group consisting of Darshan Shah, Rushil Patel and myself. We each tackled different aspects of it, my focus was on a femoral implant.

Current amputation procedures result in the residual lower limb bones not being subjected to natural loading conditions. Instead, the prosthesis transfers the load through the soft tissues to the hip, which causes a number of problems such as pain and skin irritations. The idea of this project was to design and study the feasibility of an implant that would mimic the natural load transfer through the bone. The design was based on a finite element study of the load transfer through the bone, as well as a number of surgical and rehabilitation parameters.

I was awarded the degree of “Master of Science with Merit in Biomedical Engineering” on the 1st of November 2013.

I would like to thank all the people who helped and supported me throughout the year. It was an invaluable learning experience.


Posted in Data

Is sex still a taboo in the 21st century?

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People define “sex” in different ways. Everyone have their own definition of what “sex” and “having sex” means. Some may define sex as ‘just for fun’ others may define it as a means of making or expressing love. However regardless of your definition, sex or age, you are probably still embarrassed to talk about sex in public or with your parents.

Recently I conducted an online survey, and asked 10 young youths, what is their view on sex, and whether they ever discussed sex at home and whether they are embarrassed to buy a contraceptive.

The majority view sex as an expression of love and as an important factor in a relationship, as it shows a certain comfort with your partner.  On the other hand, there are those who do not see a link between sex and love; in their perspective to have sex with a person one does not need to feel any attachment towards the other person, let alone love.

Ironically, although many young youths may admit that they have sex casually or with their partner, they still feel embarrassed to purchase a contraceptive. When asked the same group of youth whether they feel embarrassed to purchase a contraceptive, 7 out of 10 people admit that they are not shy, as long as they do not know the pharmacist.  The blame seems to be on the conservative mindset of people.

One way to overcome this is better sex education, not only at school but also getting across to the older generation, as they seem to be the most conservative.

I believe that the quality of information given at school has improved drastically, but the fact remains that many young youths are having unprotected sex. Be it because they are embarrassed to purchase a contraceptive or rather because it is done on the span of the moment, unprotected sex is not the easy way out.

However, there is more than that. Getting the message across to parents may also help in improving the perception that Maltese citizens have on sex. Nine out of 10 people never discussed sex at home, and I believe that this is due to generation gap.

This shows that parents refrain from discussing such topics with children, regardless whether they are still adolescents or in their twenties. This is ultimately resulting in many young youths lacking valuable information about sex, which is bound to lead to more teen pregnancies. Parents should deliberately talk about sex with their children, outlining the fact that it should be done responsibly. Taking such approach with your children will avoid the consequences later on.

Taking everything into account, I believe that better sex education would help both adolescents and parents. Adolescents and young youths would make better decisions and parents would be more at ease with their children about such issues. Education remains the key element to change the conservative mindset of people to a more liberal open-minded society.

Posted in Data, Features

Whose Civil Union is it?

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In September the Civil Unions Bill was presented  in parliament by Helena Dalli, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties. Once signed by the President, anyone who signs a Civil Union contract will have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else who is married. However, the main focus of this bill was the fact that same-sex couples would also eligible to apply for a civil union. They would therefore be entitled to get married, and moreover, to adopt children together and be recognized as the legal parents.

Twenty-two out of the fifty-one countries in Europe have some form of same-sex union. Most of these are in fact members of the European Union. In nine of these countries it is actually seen as a same-sex marriage, such as in France and Spain. Furthermore, in the years to come more and more countries are considering legalising same-sex relationships.

However the road to civil unions was not an easy one. In a poll carried out by Eurostat in 2006 it showed only a mere 18% supported same-sex unions. Three years later there was a massive leap with 49% of University students being in favour of same-sex unions. And in 2011, 56.5% were in favour of same-sex marriage.

And today, the civil union bill has definitely taken our island by storm. Being quite a conservative country, the notion of civil unions might still seem as a bit too liberal. On the other hand, Maltese people are no strangers to equality and human rights available for all. Keeping these things in mind, we conducted a survey to analyse the wide ranging opinions of various people. The aim of the survey was to note the citizens’ shifting perspective when different elements to the civil union’s equation were added.

From the 44 participants in the survey, 32 were female and 12 were male. We noted an interesting mix of sexual orientations, 20.5% identified themselves as homosexuals, 70.5% hetereosexuals and 9% bisexual

When solely inquiring about civil unions, the majority answered positively and pointed out that homosexuals should not be isolated from hetereosexuals since they are both humans and as one participant pointed out, ‘should not be put in a box’. Moreover, some people deemed the mere fact of putting this bill up for debate close to ridiculous. Contrastingly, the minority of participants who reacted negatively to the bill showed scepticism due to religious beliefs, however this was not a common answer.

These points of view change completely when children and their adoption by homosexual couples is added to the equation. Thirty-two participants were in favour and twelve against adoption of children by same-sex couples. Here certain trails of thought are definitely worth mentioning. One participant emphasises that when a same-sex couple wants to adopt, one can never argue that the child is ‘unplanned’ since the couple would surely want to raise the child should they decide to adopt. Once again, there is continuous reference to the equal love that homosexuals are able to give to their children when compared to heterosexual couples. People who replied against adoption commented that it is in the best interests of the child since these children will be more prone to bullying and as a result the child will suffer. Additionally, respondents radically appealed for people to keep an open mind on the matter. Here we note that citizens on both sides of the same coin have a different perspective on what the best interests of the child are: is it in the best interest of the child to have a family regardless of sexual orientation or is it the prevention of bullying from the early stages of the infant’s life?

On the whole one may comment that citizens are becoming increasingly open minded on such matters and although some might still consider the Maltese society as conservative and homophobic, it is difficult not to admit that people are slowly and constantly edging away from traditional perspectives and paving the way for a more liberal and accepting one. This process will take a considerable amount of time but as participants pointed out, is not impossible to achieve. From this survey, we noted that people are mostly concerned with the best interests of the child and the equal, accessible and recognisable rights to all.



Posted in Data, Interviews

Comparing Proposals: Pulse and SDM launch their manifestos

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SDM and Pulse launched their campaign manifestos this morning in preparation for Friday’s elections. SDM started handing out theirs before the 8am mark, whilst Pulse had an official launch in the canteen at 12.30pm.

SDM’s manifesto included thirty seven improvements in total, whilst Pulse had sixty four improvements they wanted to make. Proposals were not split depending on who will be carrying them out, making it difficult to choose who to vote for depending on the work they’ll be carrying out in the long run. When approaching a member of either teams, I was told that they were just split out generally, and that proposals would be carried out by the entire team, rather than having one particular person in charge.

The manifestos tackled the areas of: sports, entertainment, aesthetic, appeal for clubs, appeal for feedback, ease of lifestyle for students, opportunities for students, diversity and other areas which were more based for both organisations themselves, rather than for the entire student body. It was interesting to see how both parties approached the idea of diversity, both in terms of sexual orientation and in terms of different religion. Pulse also approached the idea of accessibility for people with diverse needs.

Both clubs focused mainly on easing students’ lifestyle at the Junior College, SDM dedicating 35.1% of their proposals to the cause whilst Pulse dedicated 39.1%.

Percentage wise, the manifestos were more or less balanced as indicated below:

ksjc screenshot

Most of the proposals by both parties were quite original, as opposed to last year; the proposals made were more or less completely different from each other, Pulse having 18.8% of some of their proposals similar to those of SDM, whilst SDM had 27% similar to those of Pulse, although each organisation gave their proposals a personal twist.

It was interesting to see how both parties tried to appeal to students by creating new opportunities for them. The usual cliches of trying to be inclusive and to want to give students their voice are seen in both manifestos. They also reached out to other non political clubs and organisations.

Both organisations also promised to keep building upon proposals carried out last year, meaning that last year’s work definitely won’t be forgotten.

When it comes to the manifesto in itself, rather than just the proposals, Pulse gave more exact detail on what they plan on doing, describing what they plan on improving on clearly, whereas SDM left it quite vague, saying that they will be improving upon certain things, but not really saying how they plan on doing so.

Both parties showed quite a lot of initiative, and everyone has different opinions on both manifestos. Some students find certain proposals to be ace, and a couple of other proposals to be quite unnecessary. Most students in Junior College are predicting another mixed council.

Posted in Data, News

Finding Meno

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Imagine a 100m Olympic final in which one or more runners get off the blocks 6 seconds after the gun. No matter how fast they would (potentially) be, even if they were Usain Bolt running against the slowest of sloths, they would never stand a chance for winning the race.

This is more or less the story experienced by some children who, disadvantaged by various possible factors, miss out on several important milestones in their early years of education, such as achieving basic arithmetic and literacy skills. They struggle throughout their educational experience. Some of them might make it. Unfortunately, many of them might not.

The Masters in the Science of Performative Creativity (MSPC) within the University of Malta and the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan engages the term performance in the broad extension of its contemporary use, where we speak of the performance of a teacher, of a manager, of a currency, performance in theatre, in sports, and so on. The possibility of approaching the problem of poor performers in education and confronting it in the spirit of the MSPC programme led to a study – Finding Meno –  motivated by the social difficulties faced by these children.

In line with current international winds of change in the perspective of education, the study investigates different educational methods which could enable these children to overcome their obstacles. A set of clowning workshops was designed and run at St. Patrick’s School in Sliema. In these workshops children between 11-12 and 14-15 years of age were assigned situations to tackle as clowning routines, which situations were specifically designed to covertly encapsulate SEC-level Physics concepts. The main idea behind this set of workshops was to lead the children to embody the concepts without their consciously knowing it, absorbing them, and gradually arriving tangentially at intuiting principles of Physics. The application of clowning as a platform for embodiment, moreover, was aimed at approaching the concepts via embodied analogies – analogy being an important path for learning embraced by all.

The findings of this study were very encouraging. First of all, the situations tackled by the children revealed their potential for understanding certain concepts, a potential which in their case does not emerge in the mainstream examination framework, it being not the best of contexts for the simulation of learning. Secondly, the approach even spurred the children to a point where they went beyond the level of the clowning routines they were working with, surprisingly even arriving at pose scientific questions to the workshop facilitator. At a further level it was observed that a redesigned context for the study’s final stage, involving significant changes in the environment and in the tutor/pupil dynamics, appeared to sharpen the children’s focus upon their doings, opening up opportunities for insights.

The research was partially funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship (Malta). This Scholarship is part-financed by the  European Union – European Social Fund (ESF) under Operational Programme II –  Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, “Empowering People for More Jobs and a Better Quality  Of Life”.

Posted in Data, Features