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Malta, or in official circles, the Republic of Malta, is an archipelago in Southern Europe, a small country with a total geographic area of just 122 square miles. Situated in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta lies fifty miles south of Sicily, one-hundred and seventy-five miles east of Tunisia, two-hundred miles north of Libya and roughly one-thousand miles west of Gibraltar and east of Alexandria. The main island comprises many towns, including the de facto capital of the country, Valletta, which is the site of the government seat, and Birkirkara, Malta’s largest town.
The estimated population of Malta is 408,000, the majority of which live on the main island in one of the many towns that make up Malta’s Larger Urban Zone (LUZ). Native Maltese people account for the majority of the population, and the largest ethnic minority is made up of those from Britain, mostly seniors who have retired to the island. Due to its small land area and relatively large population, Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
The Maltese language, according to Malta’s Constitution, is the official national language of the country and is spoken commonly by the majority of its inhabitants. The English language is also deemed official in the country, and Malta’s laws, as well as public communications, are written in both languages to accommodate all of the country’s residents. Although religious freedom is guaranteed to all Maltese citizens, Roman Catholicism is considered the country’s state religion and is practiced by an overwhelming percentage of the population.
Education in Malta
Education in Malta is overseen by the national government and is provided by both public and private schools, the latter being mostly operated by the Catholic Church. Public education is free through the secondary level and education is compulsory for all children for ten years, beginning at age six and culminating at age sixteen. The education system itself is modeled after that of the British and is divided between three distinct phases: primary education, secondary education and tertiary or higher education.
Primary education in Malta begins at age six and spans six years. Initially the instruction is focused on the colloquial “three Rs,” reading, writing and arithmetic—subjects that are gradually supplemented by a broad curriculum, with courses in science, history, geography, social and cultural studies, language and literature and the arts. At the age of eleven, primary school pupils must sit for an examination prior to entering a secondary school—either a church school (the Common Entrance Examination) or a state-run school.
Since 1971, secondary education in Malta has been compulsory until students reach the age of sixteen. Once students reach that age they must sit for the SEC O-level Examination, with passes required in certain subjects such as mathematics, English and Maltese. Students with passing scores are eligible to study at a “sixth form” school, the equivalent to a junior college, which features a curriculum that helps prepare them for university admission.
Only one comprehensive university exists in Malta, a large national university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in a select number of academic fields.
The adult literacy rate in Malta is 99.5 percent—a testament to the country’s excellent system of education.