With Malta set to announce its reopening strategy after a month of quasi-lockdown, the Prime Minister has pledged to prioritise education, which means schools could well reopen before the end of the scholastic year.
However, the country’s two teachers’ unions are at odds on whether they should open or not.
The Malta Union of Teachers insisted yesterday that schools shouldn’t be the first to reopen, warning it would be unfair if teachers are made to spend hours at a stretch with a group of 25 or so students while public gatherings of more than two people are banned.
“Schools closed when the [UK] variant became dominant and when schools, educators and families were on their knees, with hundreds of people in quarantine,”
“This should be avoided for everyone’s sake, including educators. We no longer hear that viral transmission among children is minimal compared to adults, or that keeping schools open will lead to a decline in positive cases.”
“The reopening strategy should be smart and not place educators, students and their families back in the situation they were in a few weeks ago.”
However, the Union of Professional Educators, which has been lobbying for online learning for months, said the physical closure of all schools can no longer be justified now the COVID-19 numbers have declined so much.
UPE executive head Graham Sansone said protocols should be revised to take into account the UK variant, which spreads more easily among children than the original version of the virus.
This would include revamping breaks into ten minute slots after every lesson so as to reduce the risk of bubble-mixing, more rigorous contact tracing, and stricter procedures when students turn up to school with symptoms.
“If a student turns up with a runny nose, they should be sent back home, even if they say they have an allergy or present a medical certificate saying they’re fit to go to school,” Sansone told Lovin Malta.
He also suggested that secondary schools could remain online to avert the problem of bubble-mixing through optional lessons, and that students with disabilities could physically join their LSEs at school and follow class virtually.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Robert Abela confirmed that education will be prioritised when the government starts lifting COVID-19 measures on 12th April.
He said the reopening strategy will be a cautious and flexible one, with the possibility of introducing new restrictions depending on the epidemiological situation at the time.