Schools will reopen in a few days’ time, but students and staff will be returning to a pretty different environment to the one they left behind last March.
Lovin Malta was recently invited to St Margaret College Secondary School, Bormla, as part of Public Service Week, and could see firsthand what measures this school, as other government schools, are taking to try and reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
When they arrive at school in the morning, students will have to wait in a physically distanced queue outside the door and must pass a temperature check to enter the building.
To prevent students from crowding outside the doors, queuing times will be staggered and students will be allotted different entrances according to their ‘bubble’.
Once they enter the building, students will have to sanitise their hands and grow accustomed to the new signage.
Footprints mark the floor all over, encouraging students to stick to the left as they move from room to room so as to reduce contact with students from different ‘bubbles’ as much as possible.
Signs reminding everyone of the ‘new normal’ have been stuck to several noticeboard, constantly encouraging students to ‘be a superhero and follow the three Ws’ – wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance.
Instructions on proper hand-wearing and mask-wearing are also widespread.
As for the classrooms themselves, desks have been physically distanced from each other and hand sanitisers have been placed at the entrance of every room. School property that is handled by multiple students will be sanitised after every lesson.
Vocational subjects, which involves far more hands-on learning and movement by students, will limit the number of students to eight per lesson, meaning classes will have to be split.
Private schools are set to reopen on 28th September and government schools two days later, but no one is under the impression that it will be an easy ride.
Both teachers’ unions, the MUT and the UPE, have come out against the reopening of schools, with the UPE warning it could order industrial action if the government doesn’t change its mind.
The Nationalist Party has also accused Education Minister Owen Bonnici of trying to “minimise the panic that has gripped schools” and os adopting a dangerous stance of false optimism.
Meanwhile, a Sunday Times of Malta survey published today indicated that 36% of people want schools to reopen while 47% don’t, and some parents have warned that they won’t send their children to school this month with the COVID-19 numbers as high as they are.
Schools seem to be trying their best to adapt, but will it be enough?