NEWS | Sunday, 26 August 2007

Census confirms educational north-south divide

James Debono

Malta’s educational north-south divide has been confirmed by the 2005 Census which revealed glaring contrasts between towns like Swieqi, where 25 per cent of its population achieved a tertiary level of education, and Marsa, where one-sixth of is still illiterate.
Alarmingly, one in every 20 adolescents aged 10-19 in Bormla and Birgu is illiterate.
But surprisingly, the affluent Sliema and St Julian’s emerge among the top five localities with the highest number of illiterates in the 10-19 age group.
Overall, illiteracy has fallen from 11.3% to just 7.2% in the past 10 years, but the south harbour region registers illiteracy rates well above the Maltese average.
It is evident that the high illiteracy in many Maltese towns is a legacy from the dearth of educational facilities in the past: the high rates were mainly registered amongst those aged over 60.
The illiteracy among the 10-19 age group in fact delivered a positive verdict on the present-day educational system, falling 2.9% in 1995 to just 1.7% in 2005.
Gozo has the lowest number of young illiterates: just one per cent of those aged 10-19.
But the educational system still fails 938 illiterate youths (10-19) who are still attending school, or have just joined the ranks of the labour force, without being able to write and read.
The total number of illiterates under the age of 30 amounts to 2,330. On the other hand, 12,391 persons over 60 are illiterate.

Illiteracy in towns
Although illiteracy among younger people has declined, some localities have higher illiteracy rates than the Maltese average.
In Xghajra, the setting for the futuristic internet village Smart City, 7% of its 20-29 age group is illiterate, dropping to 2.1% for those aged 10-19.
While many southern localities like Marsaskala and Fgura have very low illiteracy rates among younger people, St Julian’s and Sliema have relatively high rates among the 10-19 bracket – 3.7% and 3.5% respectively.
Only Birgu, Bormla and Valletta have higher rates of illiteracy among the youngest age bracket, another confirmation of the poverty trap affecting families in this region.
Overall, Swieqi, with an illiteracy rate of just 1.6% emerges as the locality with the lowest number of illiterate people. But it sill has a slightly higher rate of illiteracy amongst its under-19s (2.3%), than Marsa (2.2%).
Overall, the southern harbour region, including inner harbour towns, have nearly twice as many illiterates as northern localities, 10.2% and 5.6% respectively.
Amongst the young 10-19 age group however, north harbour localities have the same rate of illiteracy as south harbour towns like the Cottonera area, Fgura and Tarxien.
The north-south divide is more pronounced amongst the elderly. The localities with a high rate of illiteracy tend to be relatively older.
Luqa, for example, has a very high illiteracy rate of 15.5%. But among younger people illiteracy is just 0.8%; with its over-70s, illiteracy stands at 31%. At 45.4, it’s one of Malta’s oldest towns.
Malta’s oldest town Sliema – with a mean age 47 years – has an overall illiteracy of 3.5%, but it’s the elderly here who tend to be the more literate than in other towns. Only 6% of Slimizi aged over 70 are illiterate.
Northern towns however still fare better than southern localities when it comes to the level of educational attainment. Sliema is in fourth place, trailing behind Swieqi, Attard and Balzan as the locality with the highest number of graduates. At 19% it’s higher than Malta’s youngest towns – Marsaskala (12.5% are graduates) and Pembroke (12.8%).
On the other hand, Marsaskala and Pemboke have a larger component which has attained post-secondary levels of education (19%, 19.5% respectively).
Swieqi has the highest number of people with a higher education level. A quarter of the town’s population has a university degree.
In contrast, Marsa has the lowest number of persons who completed a post secondary education, and only 3% has a university degree.

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