A visit to “the Voice School of English” in Malta: one of the very first EoC businesses distinguishes itself by giving priority to the relationship with students
Coming down from the bus we immediately spot ““The Voice School of English”, situated in Pembroke, a few metres away the sea. The modern and spacious Malta National Sports School houses the Voice during the summer months. Andy, who co-ordinates the students’ visit to Malta, greets us with a big smile. She does not only know all the students by name, as actually all the teachers do, but she makes it a point to see that they receive the care and attention needed, while she works very closely even with the host families to ensure the comfort and well-being of each student.
Together with Andy there is Vivienne, who has been working at The Voice since its very beginning 23 years ago; Maria, who after a long career in the Ministry of Education now offers her expertise as head of school, and Marilyn, who joined the school staff two years ago as director of studies.
With her impressive record as teacher of English, Marilyn gives her precious contribution on pedagogical level; she follows very closely the academic progress of the students and she mentors the teaching staff to ensure support and progress in the teaching of English as a foreign language. The school prides itself with a team of professional and dedicated teachers.
“The Voice” was founded in 1992 by a group of young people who decided to become personally involved in the Economy of Communion project launched by Chiara Lubich. Some of these young people are now the older generation who host students. Vivienne, who has been head of school for years and who still helps with its administration, looks back and relates: “Prior to the Voice I started a small business but the difficulties and problems I had to face made me decide to quit and promise that I would never attempt such a feat again. When I was roped in to help with the Voice, I discovered an economic activity motivated by different aspirations. This made me change my mind and till the present day I contribute wholeheartedly to make this project survive”.
And notwithstanding difficulties and challenges the Voice is still offering its service to foreign students. Presently there are 47 English Language Schools in Malta and some of them cater for thousands of students, so one may wonder how such a small enterprise as the Voice still manages to keep going.
Marilyn explains, “We aim at giving individual attention to each student, so the number of students in each class hardly ever exceeds 6; occasionally there is maximum of 8 students. Of course, this means that we have to employ more teachers! The school also offers one-to-one programmes that satisfy the student’s individual needs”. In this way, the teacher-student relationship becomes the pedagogical method, the key to linguistic progress, especially where the development of oral communication skills are concerned. The Voice experience continues with the host families, where students are given the opportunity not only to practise their English, but also to discover the Maltese culture and share the warm family atmosphere. Building relationships is a priority, explains Vivienne, a prerogative which gives the school its identity. “Here no student is a number; they are friends with whom we share all that we can, and even they share a lot with us”. This becomes even more evident during the Friday Certificate Award Ceremony when students who have finished the course wave good-bye to the rest of “community”, a term used by the students themselves. The Director of Studies has a word full of warmth and encouragement for each departing student, while the students’ faces reflect the pride of their achievement. Students interviewed speak of the family atmosphere created at the school. Karina says “I have found friends and very friendly teachers who really wish me well”, while Raffaella adds, “I feel encouraged to look for work when I go back home by the fact that my teacher at the Voice was younger than I; l would like to give my best, just like her”. In conformity with its values and its commitment towards the Economy of Communion, the Voice opts to employ and train new young members to join its team.
Moreover, an enterprise founded by young people cannot ignore the importance of offering work opportunities to youth. Claire, one of these young members of the staff, has been employed to guide and animate the afternoon leisure activities, because at the Voice it is not only English lessons that count but the whole shared experience, an opportunity to enhance the student’s personal development. In addition, Malta is a cultural and historical jewel…….and between a visit to the Pre-historic temples and the splendid Blue Grotto, one is often allowed enough time for a dip in the crystal clear water. Next time it might be the island of Comino and the Blue Lagoon, followed by a visit to the sister island of Gozo with its historical Citadel, or a visit to Valletta, the capital city where students can enjoy one of the most popular tourist attractions: an audio-visual show that tells all about the history and culture of the Maltese Islands.
As days pass and one group “selfie” follows another, the school community changes; new arrivals are greeted with joy and there are hearty farewells for those who depart. At times the community circle widens because relatives holidaying in Malta join the school during its leisure activities. And more often than not, conversations at the beach tend to become serious talk on topics, such as the concept of the Economy of Communion that motivates the Voice, or on ideas about personal projects, or on issues that accompany one’s personal growth and professional development. Addresses and WhatsApp contacts are frequently exchanged……friendship does not end with the English course!
Lately, new members who believe in the philosophy of the Economy of Communion have been invited by the Voice to join its group of directors; among them there is John, a consultant in Human Resources and Management, who specializes in the area of Tourism. The Voice looks forward to new developments!