PN Birkirkara councillor and teacher Justin Schembri has urged the authorities to keep schools physically open and not return to online learning unless as an absolute last resort.
“The main argument should be that schools must be the last to close down and the first to reopen,” Schembri wrote in a recent article in the PN’s paper In-Nazzjon.
“I will stand by that argument even though many disagree.”
Quoting a recent OECD report which warned that children’s education suffered when schools closed down earlier this year, he said the period of fully online learning made people truly appreciate the benefits of physical learning.
“Opening schools has an enormous potential in developing essential skills in children, not only on an individual level but in the sense of a society and an entire generation. The lack of learning during the pandemic, along with the lack of educational opportunities, would have led to a significant decline in future economic growth and productivity had schools not opened.”
To back up his argument, Schembri cited scientific research which indicates that children are less likely to transmit the virus to each other or end up in hospital to to COVID-19.
“While this cannot be taken as a general rule, there’s no need for excessive alarm that will only raise tensions and stress parents out.”
“Closing schools can never reduce transmissions in a social context unless effective measures that are constantly observed are in place.”
“Meanwhile, this pandemic will be with us for months and years and we must learn to mitigate the negative effects that can be caused to education while still giving our children their fundamental rights: education and schooling.”
In the wage of a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Union of Professional Educators (UPE) has issued a set of directives to pressure the authorities to return to an online form of learning, but the Malta Union of Teachers hasn’t acted likewise.
Education Minister Owen Bonnici has insisted that schools must remain physically open while the PN has urged him to set a quantitative red line of COVID-19 cases, which once crossed will see schools close down again.