5.7 Effect of one Non-Maltese Parent on Educational Performance

Intermarriage rate is higher for Maltese than for most other ethnic groups (see chapter 3), and it would be of some interest to see if one non-Maltese parent had any effect on educational expectation and achievement.

The 1986 census data indicate that as expected there were. more, children born to couples where only the father was born in Malta. There does not however, appear to be a significant difference whether one parent is born overseas on the likelihood of students achieving tertiary qualifications.

It is of interest to ask: Do Maltese students and their parents aspire to a higher education? How do they compare with other ethnic groups?

Why is education so unattractive to the Maltese youth? Is it a question of access and equity, i.e, availability of the right facilities at the right place at the right cost? Or is there some more fundamental reason for lack of participation? Whatever the reason, one must now bear in mind the undoubted success of some ethnic groups in achieving a high degree of educational success. There is now no doubt that Jews, Greeks, Italians, and more recent arrivals like the Vietnamese, are successful in completing their education and participating in tertiary studies, while Maltese and Lebanese in particular are at the bottom of the scale. What are the reasons for this?

A number of reasons are suggested in the study of Williams (1987). Children who finish Yr 12 are found to have the following characteristics:

  • Higher Socioeconomic status: 67% of children of professional parents complete Yr 12 compared to 24% of semi-skilled parents.
  • Family wealth: 53% of children from the wealthier families, compared to 25% from the poorer ones finish Yr 12.
  • Females more than. males (although more males than females continue post-secondary education) - Ethnic background: "Non-English Born " (mainly Greek and Italian) children more than Australian or English born.
  • Urban born children more than rural ones.
  • Private as opposed to Government or Catholic Schools: more than 8D% of Independent (Private) school students compete Yr 12 cornpared to 30% in Government schools, and they enter university at five the rate.
  • Success at school: those who do well at school stay longer and finish Yr 12: It is interesting that those who do well in basic skill tests (reading, mathematics etc) when aged 10 and 14 yrs of age are three times as likely to stay on to finish Yr 12 as those who do poorly.

Of interest also is the fact that of those who leave school early (Yr 9), only 1 in 4 ever enter some form of post-secondary education, while of those who continue to Yr 12, three times as many do so.

Poole (1985) likewise emphasizes the role of cultural background, socio-economic-status of parents and gender as the three main correlates with educational achievement.

At a more pragmatic level, the main reasons given by Sant-Cassia (1983,p 25) for leaving school at an early age relate to an intense dislike of the school and the school system, based on perceptions of not doing well and of being less "brainy": illiteracy, and considerable peer presme, including "wog-taunting" also play a significant role.

One would have thought however that such gibes and irritations would apply to all ethnic groups and not specifically to Maltese-born students. It is more likely that parental and cultural expectations are more relevant in persuading students to remain at school. Maltese parental attitudes may militate against encouraging education beyond year 10, which is considered adequate in their view.

Whatever the reason, any comprehensive theory relating to educational motivation must take into account the variation in achievement between the different ethnic groups. There is no doubt that high smio-economic status correlates well with educational achievement as shown by Williams (1987 above) and emphasized again by a recent report (DEET, 1987) which indicates that aspiration for HSC depended on a number of factors, including high socioeconomic status -100% ' of high social economic status (SES) students aspired to HSC irrespective of IQ.

There is however basically little difference in the socioeconomic conditions of the immigrant farm-hand from Calabria or Kythera and that from Malta, but while the Italians and Greeks may be doing very well educationally, the Maltese are not. Most criteria of success given by Williams above do not make such a distinction.

Young et al (1980, p 26) emphasize that not all ethnic groups are doing well in the education field, and that gender plays an important part in lack of achievement:

"Some ethnic groups do well in terms of education participation; others do not. Only some members of ethnic groups normally regarded as showing high participation rates stay at school to complete a full secondary education; numerous others do not. Finally only some ethnic females remain at school to complete Year 12 at a higher rate than their male peers. Females from other ethnic groups exhibit alarmingly low senior secondary education participation rates."

Several studies have now shown that certain ethnic groups have done well in their educational endeavors. The reasons why some ethnic groups have high aspirations are not easy to determine. It is clear that the Maltese do not have high academic aspirations. Meade (1983)

states that " ... while 85 % of students of Greek origin aspired to complete the Higher School Certificate, less than 30% of student whose parents migrated to Australia from Malta expressed similar aspirations."

Bullivant (1986) describes an 'aspiration -motivation gradient' "At the top are significant number of Asian students ... Most Anglo-Australian students from middle to high SES (Social Economic Status) homes are close to this top group. A few rank at the top with the Asian students. Next ... are students from NES backgrounds, especially Greeks, Yugoslavs and Italians. Next again and lower on the gradient are other ethnic groups, especially those from Northern Europe and Britain together with significant numbers of Anglo-Australian students, especially from middle-to-low SES areas". Maltese are not included in this schema largely because their numbers in Universities are not high enough to merit mention.

Birrelland Seitz (1986) refer to 'family solidarity and discipline' to motivation and success in ethnic groups.

The Anglo-Australian group according to Bullivant are suffering from 'f-deprivation syndrome" which consists of a cluster of traits ,viz students' own lackadaisical attitudes towards the value of )n and dis-inclination to work hard to achieve their goals. It ,appears to be due to lack of parental encouragement and drive ... not be stretching matters too far to suggest that most of these -IS form part of the general Anglo-Australian value system". Maybe this is one cultural aspect which the Maltese, in their efforts to -@-ate into the Anglo-Australian community have succeeded in achieving!

The effect of cultural background is stressed by the DEET study (1987). It states that

"there is every reason to believe that different NES ethnic groups have markedly different ideas about the value of education; ideas which have more to do with the culture of the country from which they migrated, rather than their status as 'migrants' in Australia ... It is clear that in some cultures it is much more highly regarded than in others as an avenue of upward mobility, not necessarily because it brings material wealth but because it confers social prestige and power ... There can be no doubt that this is a major factor behind the comparatively high level of educational attainment, regardless of social class, of immigrants influenced by Confucian culture." (DEET, 1987, p 40)

This then shifts the emphasis from immediate school environment to home, parental and social values.

The role of parental guidance that could have influenced educational achievement need further investigation. To understand the mentality of average Maltese parent who migrated in the late 1940's and early 1950's one has to look back at the attitudes and expectations that they brought with them and that have not ceased to influence them.

The Maltese migrant belonged to a community in Malta which formed a homogeneous ethnic group, a unity perpetuated by tight formal structure which transmitted uniform values (Boissevain 1969,1974) and which historically they have fought tenaciously to preserve. They considered the family to be the most important social institution, with the father as the dominant person and bread-winner, and the wife's duty to produce children, and infuse a moral and religious sense into them. They trained their children to follow these roles: boys to follow an occupation, girls to help with housework.

These values reflected and are strengthened by their religious convictions. The church had an over-riding role in moulding social life and played 'a unique superintending and legitimating agency of Maltese life' (Gauci, 1983 p 21). A sense of fatalism and dependence on supernatural sources, God, patron Saints, blessings permeated their thinking.

There was a very clear cut idea of social class. Social prestige was associated with certain occupations with priest, doctor, lawyer, architect at the top, manual work, farming at the bottom, these being considered unclean jobs (Gauci 1983). In most cases it was unthinkable to aspire to a university education if one was born into the lower social classes.

The education experience of parents was mentioned above: most would have gone to Government schools for several years but few would have completed secondary education, and many would have had their education interrupted severely by the war years. Most important of all, they have lost cultural contact with their native land and this has never been replaced by anything indigenous. Their expectations, like their culture, became fixed and fossilised as at the point of departure. They have had no connection with a "higher" culture. Their reading ability is limited, and their reading of quality Maltese papers and books is non- existent. Television, the source of most popular culture anywhere, has had no role in keeping the Maltese informed of changes in the homeland.

It is therefore not surprising to find that parental expectations for their children in Australia has not dramatically changed.

Three studies are available that look into parental attitudes of Maltese in Australia. Taft & Cahill (1978) studied 33 Maltese families arriving in 1974 - in most cases, the fathers had arrived in 1950s. Meade (1981) included 27 Maltese parents in their study, while Gauci (1983) comments on the parents of 97 Year 10 students. Other studies (e.g. Sant-Cassia, 1983) also comment on parental attitudes.

From these studies one gleans that parents have the following characteristics. Education appears to be highly valued. Taft & Cahill (1978) find that Maltese parents had relatively high educational aspirations for their children. This really meant that they preferred to have their children better educated than themselves - a relatively modest aim. Parents prefer training opportunities and practical subjects such as woodwork, sheetmetal, fitting and turning for boys, and typing, shorthand and business studies for girls to prepare them for office work. (considered clean, white-collar). Academic studies are not much appreciated.

By contrast Maltese parents were found to have the least aspirations for academic studies for their children: only 16% expected their children to do HSC (compared to Greek 77%, Italian 60%, Yugoslav 62%); and only 9% of Maltese parents expected their students to pursue a tertiary course of studies, (compared to Greek 40%, Italian 23% and Yugoslav 43%)( Meade 1982 p 75.).

Maltese parents tend to be over directive and controlling regarding their children's futures (Taft & Cahill 1978, p 50). They prefer their children to have a strong (rigid?) moral upbringing. They see schools as lax in discipline, as shown by lack of school uniform, student behaviour, answering back, lack of homework, absence of regular examinations, and automatic promotion from year to year irrespective of performance.

Parents want the schools to be more structured. Taft & Cahill (1978, p 94) that

"Even some of the better educated parents view the education of their children as consisting wholly of classroom activity plus homework assignments, and there seems to have been a lack amongst the South American and Maltese of a wider perspective in which recreational and educational outings provided by their the school are viewed as an im important component of children's education".

They have a poor opinion of Australian schools';

"[They] were strongly infused with the belief that Australian schools taught less than Maltese schools and in their criticisms 40% mentioned thel ow academic standard . Almost every parent said... that Australian schools taught less, and the rest criticised the lax discipline.' Taft & Cahill, (ibid, p 106)

Schooling is expected to be the responsibility of the teachers who are considered to be the experts. So they have low contact with school where they felt ill-at ease. This leads one to the conclusion that

"..a serious conceptual and cultural dissonance may be occuring between the perceptions and expectations of education held by Maltese parents and the reality of educational practice in many Victorian schools ... As a result, in a classroom where teachers expect adolescents to be able to help themselves, to own realize the importance of their work, to make their decisions and to hold opinions, Maltese-Australian students could well fail to succeed. The assumptions of personal autonomy and independence which underline such classroom activity are not those which are promoted within a Maltese home".

"..it is suggested that parents may perceive of eleven years of formal schooling as being more than sufficient to enable a child to obtain an apprenticeship or office work, and that parents' aspirations for their children maybe determined not by student ability but perhaps by what parents seem to consider as worthwhile and appropriate occupations for their children. In this context, there may well appear to be a dissonance between teachers and parents in what is considered to be the role of education and the relationship between schooling and occupation." Gauci, 1983, p 34- 36)

Sant Cassia puts it as follows (1983 p 16-17)-.

Generally it may be said that most Maltese have a very indistinct concept of school. School is something you send your children "to learn" and to play with other children. It is not seen as an institution which is subordinate to the home and subservient to it in the sense of inculcating certain values which maintain the authority of the father, as for example seems to be the case among the Greeks and the Cypriots. Rather it is seen, hopefully, as the place where some children could be given a reasonable start in life "if they are intelligent and want to learn". ... Most parents do not participate in school activates and many Teacher Aids in the area [Sunshine,Victoria] were bitter about their lack of involvement. We felt that there were at least two reasons for this. First, most parents feel reluctant to approach school authorities for information regarding their children. Their lack of proficiency in English and the belief that the teacher is a cut above them, especially if they are in the labouring professions, makes them somewhat apprehensive. Secondly, most feel that unless something is wrong they should not involve themselves with teachers, etc. There is little concept of continued interaction between home and school which are seen as radically distinct institutions. With few exceptions this attitude extends to parents who send their children to private (Catholic schools), though recently some Teacher Aides have had some success in attracting mothers to weekly meetings at Government schools where they chat and exchange news. However the belief in the collective 'honour' and reputation of the family somewhat inhibits open discussion and collective involvement in the school system. Parents are loath to admit to 'failures' within the family.'

They valued Catholic education rather than State because they perceive them as having better discipline, less prone to teacher strikes, not so rough , and much more rarely because they increased life chances. As one mother put it, Catholic schools:

"offered a better education, more discipline more supervision, more interest in an individual student's progress... ... and girls from Catholic Schools are more well mannered, they have more chances of getting a job" (Sant Cassia ibid P 18).

Sant-Cassia also comments on gender differences and expectations (p 17):

"The education of boys and girls is viewed differently. Generally speaking girls were considered an unknown quality until they clever, whereas boys are presumed to be proved themselves intelligent until they show themselves dull ... Catholic education was considered safer for girls by some parents because of better supervision, although economic conditions precluded sending their boys there because of the fees incurred in Catholic schools, modest as they are.

When perceptions of future gain from an educational system which they do not understand are not clear, most parents opt for a limited education , sufficient to enable them to read and write. "NVith large families to suport, income from able bodied sons was valued more than expenditure for a dimly perceived and never experienced ideal. It was thus an easy step to withdraw children from school if they faced problems there". (Sant Cassia p 19).

The value of education for many was "to obtain something good, such as office work", because "employers don't worry about school ... they don't care ... what is important is how you do the work" (Sant Cassia -P19)

The two studies by Maltese researchers (namely Gauci and Sant-Cassia) emphasize the educational and cultural background of parents as having a pivotal role in steering their children through the rough and tumble of State schools. They emphasize, as do all other workers who studied Maltese parents that their aspirations are not very high. What is very revealing however is the fact that they are in no way different from the Maltese of equivalent social status in Malta. The drop-out rate in State schools in Malta is not any better than that in Australia. However, what is different is that the proportion of children being sent to private schools in Malta has increased enormously as mentioned above, indicating a shift of parental responsibilities. Even now, there is a premium on education with private tuition being sought from an early age to eke out the State education system. As the cultural background has changed in recent years in Malta, so have parental expectation with regards to their children's education. This has not happened in Australia.

Source: Maurice N. Cauchi - Maltese Migrants in Australia, Malta 1990

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