The day parents, teachers and students have been waiting for has finally arrived, and how are we feeling? Though it’s good to finally have some information after weeks of waiting, there’s still a feeling of a missed opportunity to really put Malta’s online learning on the map. For beleaguered parents, though, it’s a welcome announcement that children will be heading back to school come the end of the month. The press conference, hosted by Frank Fabri (Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Education and Employment) and Charmaine Gauci (no introduction needed), and here are some key points to take note of.
A sensitive touchpoint that needs to balance health with adequate learning at crucial ages for students, it is somewhat surprising that there’s no functional plan yet for tele-schooling at the moment of writing. It could have been forgiven in the pandemic’s early days, but we’ve had months to work on a proper plan of action should re-opening schools backfire. Is it a technological issue that’s causing the hold-up, as a standard platform is established for all schools to make use of? Also, why are talks still ongoing with unions just 4 weeks ahead of re-opening? You’d think they’d have agreed a plan with all stakeholders before the press conference.
Some parents expressed their frustration with the announced measures, stating that online lessons should have been the way to go.
Masks, Bubbles & Transport
Masks will be obligatory at all times for students aged 11 and over as well as grown-ups, whereas kids aged 3-10 will only need to wear the masks in communal areas. We wish teachers the best of luck to keep students in check and in good health (just adding to their ever-growing list of responsibilities) apart from best as possible behaviour. Gauci reiterated the importance that should a student display any COVID-related symptoms, or parents have any doubts, they are not to send the child to school. If the student develops symptoms en route to school, they are kept in a “COVID bay” until they can be picked up.
Others have questioned parents’ rights to leave work in case their child displays symptoms, and how effective the bubbles really are.
Provided the student gets to school without issue, they will be seated 1.5m apart in limited-size classrooms, and students will be assigned “bubbles”. This means that they will be spending their school day with the same group to limit possible transmission. In fact, it will be teachers changing classrooms rather than having groups of students moving and mingling in corridors, which is undoubtedly the best option in this situation.
School transport will require students to maintain social distancing as well as wear masks, but this raises some questions. Will this mean more school vans and buses on the roads? Because that will cause havoc in streets already notoriously packed. Who will be enforcing said social distancing and mask-wearing? How will transport sanitization work and will it be monitored? Open windows and sanitizer provided upon entry are welcome points, but there’s definitely more to come on this count.
Homework, MUT Statement & Parent Concern
Students hoping to get a free pass on homework will be disappointed to learn that it will surely not be the case, although teachers are encouraged to give digital homework to avoid the exchanging of books, and if not, then students could correct their homework in class. In a statement, the MUT has maintained that there will be intensive discussions to implement these protocols. As for parents, opinions differ. Whatever happens, strap yourselves in, we’re in for a ride. And wear your masks, please.