Sunday 22 April 2018


School should not be this stressful

Every time I meet a mother with a school age child around exam time she is a bundle of nerves and about to reach breaking point.

Schooling in Malta, instead of being a welcome part of a child’s life where they can socialise with  friends their own age and learn new things in a stimulating environment, is what can only be described as an obstacle course. Not only are these poor children being pushed harder and harder to cover what seems like an impossible to achieve syllabus, but the mothers (it’s mostly the mothers) are being reduced to wrecks as well.  Finishing each day’s homework sets the scene for a daily battleground while preparing for exams is a nightmare. School has become a source of tension and stress.

I cannot understand it; school did not used to be like this.  We were given just enough homework  for our capabilities and age group, and it definitely did not take hours and hours to finish.  Although I was only at school in Malta from Forms 3 – 5, I cannot remember anyone saying that their mother used to have to sit by their side to make sure they understood what they were doing.  We studied for exams on our own, and did any projects required on our own. So what happened? When did it all change?

The educational system, in my opinion, is not achieving what it sets out to do – which is to educate. It is merely creating zombies out of children who end up hating school (do you blame them?)  It is causing incredible anxiety within families as mothers dread the time of day when they have to cope with homework. But homework should not be for the mothers should it? Nor should the overly complicated projects or lists of Maltese proverbs or historical dates to be studied by heart to be regurgitated on an exam paper.

If anyone thinks that our rigid emphasis on academic subjects means that our children will end up coming out at the other end of Form 5 any more “intelligent” than other kids their age in other countries they are wrong.  Education and learning is a gradual process and a child’s ability to absorb new ideas and information cannot be hurried.  Sure Maltese children may leave school with what looks like an impressive string of O levels, but I think their overall formation in general knowledge, sports and the Arts suffers as a result. Most of all, they lag behind in their ability to debate, question and challenge new ideas.

Yes, some of them get quite good at learning by rote and cramming information into their brains in order to pass yet another exam.  A percentage of these will even continue  to do this very successfully throughout Sixth Form and even University.  But speak to employers and they will tell you how difficult it is to find graduates who can write and speak decently in both Maltese and English.  They will also tell you that many of these “whiz kids” with straight As are hopeless when it comes to being practical and pro-active on the job; they need to be told what to do. That is how they have been taught.

Somewhere along the line, school has ceased to be a positive experience for children.  It is no wonder so many of them cannot wait to leave.


  • William Calleja

    Having experiences primary, secondary and tertiary education I can safely say that from year 1 to form 5 is the period of my life that I’m mostly glad its over. I studied at MCAST as tertiary education, back when it opened and the teachers were non academics and we didn’t have exams but assignments. Best school years of my life and the only school years where I felt like I learned anything.

  • francesca

    You couldn’t have said it in better words !

  • Samantha Abela


    I just read your post and I just wish to point out a couple of things:

    1) The contents of the syllabus that the students need to know didn’t change much over the years. Even the methods of teaching. The latter depends mainly on resources and time. If a teacher has a full load of lessons you can not expect her to have a variety of resources for every single lesson especially when all she has is some glue, paper, pen and a whiteboard.
    2)I don’t think that school has become stressful. Its students that make it a stressful experience for themselves. We used to enjoy going to school because we used to enjoy learning in general. School was our major fountain of knowledge. Nowadays students will tell you that they learn more at home and that everything is boring. You can take them out for outings, do an activity outside the class, show and discuss a video and they won’t like it. If you try and incorporate an element of creativity in their homework, believe me, when I tell you they don’t understand it. They won’t see it as something ‘fun’ and they prefer to share their knowledge in a question and answer form than try to think something up themselves.

    Nowadays school teachers try to teach children thinking skills rather than just feeding them knowledge. Unfortunately though our students don’t grasp the importance of skills. They look at activity as a means to waste time not to learn.

    I don’t want to generalize and say that this is the reality of the majority of students. I hope it is not. But unfortunately I only meet few interested students in my daily life.

    I also think that having your ‘mother’ constantly there to help you ‘understand’ your HW is not a good sign either. For me it doesn’t show that the HW is too hard, but rather that 1) the student most probably doesn’t pay attention 2) He will rely on his mother for help so won’t push himself to try it alone….

    The reality is that school is not that stressful, we just like to use the word stress too much nowadays…

  • Mark

    I teach at a church school and we never undertook Junior Lyceum exams or PRivate school exams. Last year we have been involved in the benchmarking exams and it has indirectly created tension to parents and teachers to perform. It is not fair but we did not have much choice. I teach at year 5 level and we must start training them for these exams. Although the designers of this exam claim it’s not a performance test and that it is more fair on the children since it also includes oral performances it is still a test. And when you do a test you do it to obtain results, good results.
    We do a lot of extra curricular stuff such as cooking activities, mini presentations, art sessions and a multitude of things but I had to reduce these activities in order to confirm to the amount of things that have to be covered.

  • Audrey Friggieri

    Nowadays it’s supposed to be the time of enlightenment in education: better resources, ‘new’ methods and a new curriculum that has been formulated with the needs of individual pupils at heart. However, exams remain. They are still the tools with which students are filtered, selected and classified. Unfortunately. No matter how much we encourage students the fact remains that the quality of their future will depend on the quantity and quality of their examination grades. Parents know this, and it is anxiety for their children’s future which propels many of them to taking all sorts of measures to ensure that their kids do what’s expected of them and more. Everybody wants the best for their children. The problem here lies in the fact that children (and adults) need to experience failure in order to learn and succeed. By sitting beside them to help with homework and projects they are not letting them deal with their stuff on their own – failing if they have to, thus preventing them from experiencing disappointment which is an essential lesson for life. Parents are consequently preventing kids from standing on their own two feet, encouraging dependency.And what will happen when our kids need to face examinations on their own, life being a series of them, for we are tested all the time? Will parents always be there, sacrificing their own life? And what kind of character will the kids develop in this kind of upbringing?
    Examinations do cause stress, because one has to perform and because we all want a good life; they are a necessary evil in our culture, but our life is much larger than excellent grades, and we should all be concerned about our children’s and our own health. Nothing is worth us turning into nervous wrecks. Parents should be practical, knowing their children better than anyone else. Each child has his or her own individual rhythm and learning style which should always be respected, no matter how difficult examinations are perceived.

  • Annabelle

    I think Samantha Abela summed it up perfectly. From my experience in teaching in secondary schools I have come to the conclusion that in most cases – though again one cannot generalise – that teachers DO NOT insist in teaching by rote or in stuffing their students’ head full of facts. I know many teachers that try to introduce an element of creativity and originality – only to be rebuffed by students – who find these attempts “useless” or too difficult to grasp.

  • Sandra

    As a mother of three, two of which are yr 5 and yr 2 students, yes i find it frustrating during exam times not to mention hw time. Fortunately, they do hw by themselves with little help needed but i find it very time conuming. They start their hw at about three and the older one wil keep on going till 5 not to say 6 and its only written hw. Than they have to study, read and why not play! They also need to go to dutrina, football lessons etc… After doing 6hrs at school than all that hw, how on earth can you try to convince them that they have to read or study and if there will be time play.

  • francesca

    Some children have learning difficulties and yes maybe are slower acidemically. This does not make them stupid. I believe every child has his best point ! But for these children to keep up in school with the others it is hell and they feel it ! In these cases you have to sit down with your kids during their hw because most of the time you have to explain more than one time for them to understand. This is what makes it so tiring and stressful especially for the child. If the child can learn at his own pace well and good but this is not the case unfortunately. Children are starting to hate school and I don’t blame them.

  • Vanessa Miceli

    I think that exam stress depends on the individual. However teaching has to change to embrace new technologies. The emphasis should be on skills rather than cramming kids’ minds with facts that can be easily be accessed through a quick search on the Internet!

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