I am one of the many students whose last year at secondary school came to a sudden halt back in March. In a few weeks’ time, I will be starting my first year in Sixth Form. I have had people telling me that these will be “the best two years of my life”. If this was like any other year, I would agree. But this is no normal year.
I have been looking forward to getting into Sixth Form ever since the beginning of my secondary education. Like many other students, I have worked hard throughout the past five years to get to where I am today. Yet this hard work is now being threatened.
The guidelines for Sixth Forms and MCAST published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Ministry of Health on the 15th September have given us students a somewhat clearer picture of what school will be like in a few week’s time. Are they necessarily the best measures that could have been taken?
I am not a medical doctor or virologist, so I am not really in a position to answer that question. The only thing I can comment about as an Arts and Humanities student, who has little to no background on biology and related matters, is whether I feel safe with these measures or not. In my case, no, I do not feel fully secure.
Masks and social distancing are excellent measures, granted. Yet at this moment in time, they are not enough. I honestly never wanted to go back to school as much as I want to this year. The current situation requires us to make certain sacrifices and we must have the capacity of acknowledging that.
I much prefer being in a classroom with my friends and teachers than staring at a screen in my room all alone. After all, we are all social beings, no matter how introverted we might be. Online lessons also pose many drawbacks such as Internet problems, lagging, sound issues, so on and so forth.
It is the best and safest solution at this moment in time, not just for students and teachers, but also for each and every one of us, especially the vulnerable. We have to face the consequences of the decisions that were made back when the Public Health Emergency was lifted; a move which initiated the infamous “second wave”.
At the time of writing, there are around 600 active cases in Malta. When the decision to close schools for a week was taken on the 12th March, there were a total of 9 active cases. When the closure was extended for another month on the 18th March, there were 48 cases. Just ten days after, on the 28th March, the closure was extended till the end of the scholastic year. At this point, there were 149 active cases.
How is the situation any safer now than it was back then? One might argue that back then we were still uncertain about what this virus truly is. Yet one might also argue, and rightfully so, that we still do not know what threats the virus truly poses upon us. For instance, we still do not know what long-term effects it will have on the health of those infected. How can we feel safe going back to school with such uncertainties?
After seeing the cases unfold this summer within SkolaSajf and inside homes for the elderly, I have no shred of doubt that there will be cases of COVID-19 in schools as well. Many students can also agree that online learning is not the most effective method of learning.
Education stakeholders had six months to create a solid and stable back-up plan for going back to school amid this pandemic. Yet they failed to do so. The past six months should have been considered as an opportunity to evaluate and rethink the system. But this opportunity was not taken on board and so the system continues to become even less relevant as time progresses.
If schools do not open, I might not have the chance to make many memories with my new schoolmates. If schools do not open, I might not have the opportunity to participate in Soirée. If schools do not open, I might not get to meet my educators. But my health and, most importantly, the health of my loved ones come first.
My first year in Sixth Form is surely not going to be a normal scholastic year. No matter what the Government says, it is evident that the situation has been mismanaged and we have lost all sense of control over the spread of this virus.
I am aware that the Government wants to keep us optimistic and to get on with our lives as usual, but this is not the time to be hopeful. It is time to be realistic. Sacrifices need to be made and immediate actions need to be taken, in the same manner as during the Public Health Emergency a few months ago.
The virus is stronger and we ought to act smarter.
Bradley Cachia is a student about to start sixth form in Malta.
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