As COVID-19 cases plummet and vaccination rates shoot up, a group of concerned sixth formers from the St Aloysius student council are urging the Maltese health and education authorities to let them return to school before the end of the scholastic year.
“I think students are now at their breaking point,” student Julia Gauci told Lovin Malta during an interview. “Sitting at a screen for six hours everyday is tiring and exhausting. You don’t get to talk to anyone, you’re locked in your own room and we’re already seeing the effects the situation is having on our students.”
“Even from a physical aspect – in a normal school condition, you would move around from one lesson to another and go out during break time, but now its just sitting at your desk and waiting for those 30 minutes to go by. Maybe you read something or message your friend but that’s all.”
Sean Azzopardi questioned the logic behind keeping sixth forms closed while allowing EFL schools to reopen on 1st June.
“It’s good that language schools are opening because we need the economy to move forward, but there’s this inconsistency because people of the same age who are tourists are allowed to go to school to learn and then your own citizens aren’t allowed to,” he said.
“Even with, for example, influenza season, there’s usually way more than five cases per day but we’d still be allowed to go to school.”
The students warned they are effectively being punished by the state for being mature enough to stay at home and follow online lessons without parent supervision.
“You feel mistreated in a way,” Martina Cortis said. “I understand it’s fundamental for primary and secondary students to go to school because they’re younger and their concentration levels may be lower, but I still think that post-secondary students should be given more importance.
“Even though we’re older, many of us still find it harder to concentrate so I think we should be given more importance.”
Bradley Cachia added that fully online lessons are lulling sixth form students into a sense of laziness.
“Sometimes I wake up and the first lesson is at 7:45am, but I’d wake up at 7am, decide to stay in bed for a bit longer but end up waking up late. You get lazy at home. That routine of getting up, going to school and going from one class to another gets you going and prepares you for life after sixth form too.”
Meanwhile, sixth formers are completely missing the social aspect of post-secondary education, which plays a crucial part in students’ development. Activities like sports day have been cancelled while the annual cultural soiree had to go online.
“I’m a firm believer that the friends you make in sixth form become lifelong friends,” Julia said. “I think the fact that we weren’t able to interact with second years made it harder because first years usually look up to the second years for guidance, advice and maybe even friendship.”
“Some people were just placed in the school environment with no connections or friends whatsoever… maybe their only friends were in second year so it was much harder for them to start making friends and group up. I think it’s a very important aspect of sixth form, I think it’s what makes it really important and memorable at the end of the day.”
Questioned by Lovin Malta, Education Minister Justyne Caruana said she understands the frustrations of sixth form students and said discussions are ongoing with the health authorities.
However, with the end of the scholastic year fast approaching, it’s looking very much like post-secondary education will remain online until at least the next term.