June 2013 Event: Education Reforms and Schooling in Malta - 1800-1974

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school-in-maltaOn Tuesday 18 June 2013 Mrs Maria Catania, guest speaker at the Maltese Historical Association monthly event, gave a presentation on Education Reforms and Schooling in Malta between 1800 and 1974.

After a brief introduction, Mrs Catania developed the topic around three areas of the history of education in Malta:

  • Education reforms and the personalities involved in these reforms.
  • Some of the schools in towns and villages which were restored, extended or newly built.
  • Our school years' experiences.

Education Reforms

Canon-PullicinoCanon PullicinoPanzavecchiaMgr PanzavecchiaThe British rule in Malta started in 1800. During the period 1800-1836, very little was done towards Primary Education because the Government did not want to embark on a costly program of educating the people. The Royal Commission of Inquiry of 1836 reported the low level of education of the Maltese people. The Commissioners criticised the widespread illiteracy, which was due to poverty and the poor school attendance, and recommended the opening of more schools, better pay for teachers and doubling the annual expenditure on education.

In 1840, Mons. Panzavecchia was appointed Inspector of Primary Schools and he started the hard work towards better education in Malta. Many other personalities, including Chief Inspector of Schools, Canon Paolo Pullicino, Minister for Education Mons. Dandria and Directors of Education Albert Laferla, John Brennan and Joseph Vassallo worked hard towards this aim.

AlbertVLaFerlaAlbert V LaferlaIn 1878, a number of Royal Commissioners came from Britain to investigate possible reforms in Education. A Department of Education was set up headed by a Director of Education. Teachers had to receive better training provided by the Government and to encourage children to learn. Prizes were to be distributed every year.

Sigismondo-SavonaSigismondo SavonaIt was proposed to start teaching students English before Italian in primary schools. These reforms were put into practice by Director of Education Sigismondo Savona (1880-1887) and Chief Secretary Gerald Strickland (1889-1902).

The 1921 Constitution placed Education under the responsibility of the Maltese Government. However, school attendance was still poor because many parents still were against sending their children to school. For this reason, the Compulsion Attendance Act became law in 1924.

Gerald-StricklandGerald StricklandAfter the Second World War, people became more eager to learn and the Government introduced the Compulsion Attendance Ordinance of 1946. Parents became obliged to send their children to school at the age of five.

During the 1950s and 1960s, more primary and secondary schools were built throughout the Island. St Michael's Teacher Training College for males and Mater Admirabilis Teacher Training College for females were opened in the early fifties.The University at Tal-Qroqq was inaugurated in 1964.

Joseph-VassalloJoseph VassalloIn 1970, the Secondary Schools for All Act made secondary education compulsory from 11 to 14 years and with the Education Act 1974, the school leaving age was extended to 16.

By the end of the Seventies, all schools in Malta had reached the level of some of the most advanced countries in Europe.


During the second part of the presentation, pictures of various schools in Malta were shown. These schools were either newly built, extended or restored. Some were large houses or auberges which were used as schools. The government primary school in Tarxien (pictured right),  to the best of the speaker's knowledge built in 1889, was the first purpose-built primary school in the Maltese islands. Tarxien-SchoolTarxien Primary SchoolBefore this children were taught in large houses rented by the authorities from private owners.

The audience showed great interest, especially when pictures of the schools which they had attended were shown. Some discussions occurred.

School experiences

The final part of the session created great enthusiasm among many of members and guests who attended the presentation. Many were keen to relate an experience of their school years.

The evening ended with light refreshments for all.


Maria-Catania-150Guest SpeakerEducation formed a great part of Maria Catania’s life. Just before her 17th birthday, she was employed as a prospective teacher at Paola Infants’ School, where Miss Rita Chetcuti, one of the finest Educationists in Malta was the Principal. Under Miss Chetcuti’s wing and through seminars and in-services, she learnt teaching skills which she passed on to students from Mater Admirabilis Training College in Malta and from Catholic University in Melbourne.

In the late sixties, Maria did a two year Training course towards her Certificate of Teaching and Primary Teacher Registration in Australia. Maria continued to update her qualifications through numerous courses and in-service programs.

Together with her husband and first child, as well as her parents, Maria migrated to Melbourne in 1964.

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