GHD Foundation inaugurated the IT and Robotics classroom at Naxxar Induction Hub and this is the occasion for a substantial article.

Believing that their nation’s future is contingent upon a strong, diverse workforce, the island nation of Malta dedicates significant resources to educate foreign children along with their local peers. Malta’s Maria Regina College Naxxar Induction Centre, or the Induction Hub, carries the responsibility of educating these foreign students in English in a “segregated” way for a year before integrating them into the traditional school system. Despite the immense pressure, the aim is to prepare them to join their local school in the subsequent academic year.

Malta is a tourist hotspot known for its vibrant tourism sector that accounted for 30% of its GDP before the pandemic. With the sector recovering slowly post-closures, it still provides significant employment opportunities, thus attracting many foreign workers. As the Times of Malta reported, Malta currently hosts over 115,000 non-Maltese citizens, comprising about 22% of the total population.

Citizens from the European Union make up one third of the foreign population, with Italians and British being the most represented. Other notable communities include Indians, Filipinos, Libyans, Nepalese, Serbs, Bulgarians, Albanians, and Hungarians.

Walking through the corridors of the Naxxar school, one can’t help but notice the values the institution cherishes depicted on the corridor walls: from Dream, Imagine, Believe to Collaboration, Fairness, Perseverance, Teamwork, Positivity, Balance, Inclusion, Community, and Empathy, principles often not adequately promoted in some foreign education systems. As explained by School Director Jonathan Portanier Mifsud, “Our mission is to create an environment that cherishes multiculturalism, diversity, and social justice. We aim to provide a supportive environment to ensure our students’ successful integration into the Maltese society, including bilingual communication and democratic citizenship values.”

The school goes way beyond conventional language teaching and incorporates various projects to help students acquire basic skills in both Maltese and English, which will enable them to continue their studies in traditional compulsory and secondary education. Activities offered by the school are multifaceted, encompassing culinary tasks such as cooking and baking, maintaining a small courtyard garden, and engaging in art classes. At the end of his speech, the headmaster challenges the graduating students, who have produced an activity book in Maltese with drawings and playful exercises in the course of the current school year. One by one, the children from almost all over the world have their turn to discuss their project, sometimes with minor stuttering or occasional misuse of English phrases. However, this school nurtures a forgiving environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth rather than failures, and no child faces ridicule for misspeaking or erring. Gone is the typical stress-laden and mandatory-event ambiance often seen in Hungarian schools, replaced with a more relaxed, accepting atmosphere.

“Let them progress at their own pace. They are the future of our country. They might fail without our support”, stresses Principal Jonathan Portanier Mifsud. There is no doubt that it is not an easy situation for the school: they have to teach children from different countries, religious backgrounds and cultures together, with parents who are not middle-class people with a balanced existence, but mostly poor migrant workers who work in the construction industry or in the hospitality industry in Malta.

Thanks to the commitment of director Gábor Daróczi of the Malta-based Foundation for Global Human Dignity (FGHD) and computer scientist Péter Mekis, a classroom has recently been unveiled at the school where digital literacy, coding and robotics is taught in a playful way. The equipment and laptops for the classroom were provided by two organisations, Partners Hungary Foundation and the International Step by Step Association, in the framework of a significant laptop donation program for refugee children, while the Lego robots were donated by the Jai Bhi Association.

How did a Hungarian foundation find its place in a Maltese school?

Gábor Daróczi, director of the Malta-based Foundation for Global Human Dignity (FGHD), explains, “We’ve been collaborating with the state-run Maria Regina College for the past year. My personal connection to Malta began five years ago when I moved here with my family. My daughter joined this primary school without any prior knowledge of English. Remarkably, within the span of just eight months, she underwent an astounding transformation and by the school year’s end, not only she but all her peers were fluently speaking and reading English. Maria Regina College operates on a unique principle; they separate foreign, non-English speaking school-aged children for an intensive one-year language program. And it’s strictly for one year only. Post this period, they integrate these children with their local Maltese peers in regular schooling. Despite being a state-run institution, the school offers its educators significant autonomy. The objective is to enable all children to resume their studies in Maltese schools within a single academic year. However, the school entrusts the achievement of this goal and its methods to individual teachers. When I proposed the idea of incorporating IT education and robotics to Principal Mifsud, he was open to any of my suggestions as long as they provide solutions that are legal and are in English,” adds Daróczi, who has served as the Ministerial Commissioner for the Integration of Disadvantaged and Roma Children, working alongside former Education Minister Bálint Magyar.

Daróczi passionately argues, “I’ve always maintained that we must equip our most impoverished children with cutting-edge tools to effectively offset their disadvantages. This philosophy starkly contrasts the outdated notion that, for instance, we should limit the Roma to learn traditional skills like basket weaving. On the contrary, they should be learning coding!” He then points to the Cube Geekeries, a key initiative run by his foundation in Hungary. With the generous backing of SOS Children’s Villages Hungary Foundation, FGHD is training IT mentors, whose purpose is to help disadvantaged children nationwide acquire programming skills. Excitingly, the eighth Cube Geekeries is set to open its doors this month. Daróczi adds, “We’re planning on expanding this programme to four additional countries, including Ukraine.”

As Malta grapples with the integration of a digital curriculum within its public education framework, Gábor Daróczi recognized the importance of programming and initiated the idea of Induction Hub to the director. The school educates children from a variety of nations, including Vietnam, Colombia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Tunisia, China, Italy, and the Philippines. Daróczi asserts, “The advancement of robotics will likely lead to the replacement of many jobs in our lifetime. In the near future, performing any task without a basic understanding of these digital tools will be nearly impossible.”

The inauguration of the programming classroom was graced by the presence of János Orsós, founder of Dr. Ambédkar School, an institution providing graduation opportunities to disadvantaged Roma students. He represented Partners Hungary, an organization responsible for supplying the laptops. Post the ceremony, Orsós was deeply touched by the Maltese school principal’s declaration that foreign students represent Malta’s future.

Despite the previous surge in refugees where Hungarians were instructed by the government to fear “migrants”, Orsós found it heartwarming to witness Hungarians assisting Ukrainian refugees, from helping them disembark the trains to providing shelter and accommodation. He saw this as a normal and humane response. It could have been reassuring, but sadly, at the same time, the Christian, Hungarian-speaking Roma were deserted, and no assistance awaited them. They were unjustly labelled as migrants, laments Orsós. Currently, he is collaborating with the Partners Hungary Foundation to expand the laptop competition to include all Roma children living in conditions akin to third-world poverty, who are overlooked in the existing solidarity scheme.

Original article published in Hungarian