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Island gearsup for change

MALTA. They are not used to change in Malta's schools, but on Wednesday every education official from the director-general down and every headteacher will gather in one room to discuss a draft of the new national curriculum.

It's part of a determined effort by Evarist Bartolo, education and culture minister in the 18-month old Labour government, to build a consensus for widespread reforms in the island's schools. "We have tried to relax the exam-driven system and we are making schools more child friendly," he said.

Last year he abolished the need for pupils to memorise 500 Maltese proverbs for their 11+ exam and brought in midweek project time when primary children do craft or other creative activities.

He has also initiated school development planning using internal audits and target-setting. And in September he invited Edward de Bono, the distinguished Maltese free thinker, to talk to all the island's primary teachers about creative learning.

"Our system is modelled on the British system, but we never left the basics," Mr Bartolo explained. "When I walk through a primary, sometimes it's so quiet I have to remind myself it isn't a cemetery."

Mr Bartolo has shown a steely determination to achieve change through consensus, even bringing in British advisers from the Leeds University consultancy firm, CCDU, to prepare education officials for change and a more team-based way of working.

Bartolo, 45, is the first education minister to come from education himself. A former kindergarten and secondary teacher with an MEd, he still lectures at Malta's university. He also has two young children to remind him how out of touch schools have become.

"I would like to see less difference between what happens inside schools and what happens outside schools," he said. "Twenty years ago children found school less alien, but now school has to compete with computers, TV and infotainment."

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