Schools in Malta have been forced to shut down once more, a year since they first closed their doors to curb COVID-19 infections. While most students are grateful to resort to online learning as cases spike, parents of children with learning disabilities say they’re struggling to cope.
Rebecca Camilleri works as a property advisor and is a mother to three children aged 6, 9 and 11. Her youngest child has ADHD while her nine-year-old son has down syndrome and epilepsy. But as their usual one-on-one learning support is limited to online lessons and state occupational therapy halted, Camilleri feels emotionally drained.
“My son doesn’t sit down for 15 minutes. How can I expect him to follow online lessons for six hours?” she told Lovin Malta.
“If my son could at least attend a resource centre for children with disabilities, I could stay home with my other two kids. I don’t expect him to go to school every day, but I need my energy back to care for my family. I’m drained.”
Another mother, Sandra* said the “one-size-fits-all” approach simply doesn’t work for parents like her and urged for exceptions to be made.
“I have a 12-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy and a ten-year-old son with autism. The 12-year-old needs constant supervision, so I need to sit with her through all her lessons. My son is expected to sit all day as well, but he can’t sit for more than two minutes,” she said, adding that she juggles a full-time job too.
“We need some sort of exceptions because our children will fall through the cracks fast,” she finished.
“My six-year-old son needs help with everything – to hold a pencil, to follow and understand, to keep his concentration. He’s made enormous progress with his LSE, but now it’s lost, there’s no more inclusion,” another mother, Martha* told this newsroom.
Every weekday, children like her son are expected to follow a lesson from 8.30am to 1.15pm, a time that normally clashes with office hours.
“We asked for recorded sessions, but this is not allowed either. Also sessions cannot be held after 2pm, so what are working parents supposed to do? I need to pay for his therapy,” she said.
President of National Parents Society of Persons With Disabilities Speaks Out
“This time last year when schools first shut, we were going into the unknown. But a year later, we’re tired and demotivated. We can’t believe parents are once again left with no support,” Marchita Magnifico, the president of the National Parents Society of Persons With Disabilities told Lovin Malta.
Magnifico urged authorities to consider models used in other countries, where exemptions are made for certain students to attend physically.
“We’re not saying we’re experts over health authorities, but reducing the number of people in one confined space is already a start. We are aware that there are parents who will not send their children but some can’t do without physical lessons. Students with disabilities have once more been left with the short end of the stick,” she added.
However, a closer look at the education crisis is more complex.
Sources said that some private schools are currently offering for students who need LSEs to come to school physically, but it is at the complete discretion of LSEs to agree.
The majority of LSEs have not accepted, either because they’re afraid of swelling rates of COVID-19 cases, prefer to work from home or are restrained with children of their own.
Morevover, certain students with disabilities like autism are exempt from wearing masks. This raises concern for the protection of teachers and LSEs in a time when Malta battles a more contagious COVID-19 variant.
Malta’s Commissioner for Persons With Disabilities Samantha Pace Gasan has since spoken out about the issue.
Pace Gasan said she was in contact with the National School Support Services who assured her that individual support will be provided to support children and parents with online learning.
“While the Commission acknowledges and understands the challenges that remote schooling for children with disabilities presents to both guardians and the children, it believes that health concerns and the safety of persons with disabilities take precedent in the current scenario,” it wrote in a statement.
The Commission also confirmed that it will host a meeting in the coming days with the CRPD’s COVID-19 task force to further tackle the issue.
Malta has also been executing a nation-wide vaccination programme, with teachers next in line to receive a COVID-19 jab. Fears of teachers returning to classrooms may be eased once they are all vaccinated, which, if plans remain to schedule, should be after Easter.
Lovin Malta has also reached out to Malta Teachers Union for a comment.
*Names have been changed for the sake of anonymity
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