The Malta Independent 4 June 2020, Thursday

Coronavirus pandemic caught Malta unprepared for online learning – PN

Karl Azzopardi Tuesday, 24 March 2020, 15:01 Last update: about 3 months ago

PN spokesman for education Clyde Puli said tpday that the Coronavirus pandemic exposed how the e-learning facilities are lacking and this has negatively affected students and educators after schools closed down.

“The closing down of schools was necessary; we had also suggested it and supported it. However, we have also understood that we had to be prepared for this situation,” Puli said.

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Addressing the media, Puli that the decision to close schools created a lot of challenges such as how children in obligatory education will recover time lost and what students who should be sitting for their 'O' levels or MATSEC exams next month should do. With obligatory education we are losing a lot of time from the curriculum so we need measures that will mitigate and recuperate from this.

“We have seen that the minister of education had no contingency plan, not even in the short term. We do appreciate that a working group was set up but it all happened too late,” he said.

Puli added that it is important to remove uncertainty for students – “we already have a lot of school leavers so we need to ensure that this pandemic does not increase this number.”

However, he emphasised that the worst effect of this pandemic revealed is the lack of preparation for an e-learning strategy.

He pointed out that there was a strategy planned for a tablet per child where the rollout took more years than expected and only students in Year 4, 5 and 6 have benefitted from it. Additionally, a whitepaper was put forward in 2012 so that having access to the internet is a right which should be listed in the constitution but this has not been put in place. There was also the Malta AI Project which education was part of as well but funds have not been put in place for it.

PN MP Claudette Buttigieg said the priority is for students and teachers to be informed if MATSEC exams are even taking place or not, she stated.

Asked what should be done if the government decided or exams to not be postponed, Buttigieg said that there are things that can be done. “One can postpone exams and have a temporary education system. There are countries that are adapting to it and while it does not mean that these might apply to us, we just need to see what fits our system.”

She added that there are students who did not even finish their curriculum and this highlights the negative impact of having a digital divide as some have no access to online portals.

PN MP Ryan Callus said that the sport sector, like other sectors, is not doing well.

He focused on clubs which have contracts with coaches and nurseries who are worried about how to pay them and, in turn, coaches and nurseries are worried that they will not get paid.

“The economic measures put in place by the government should be extended to the sport sector as they depend on sponsors which are one of the first things that were affected by this pandemic,” he explained. This also includes owners of fitness centres.

Callus also addressed the important issue of mental health, especially when it comes to staying at home.

“Confinement has changed the way we live and there are a number of groups that are even more affected, like the elderly,” he said. Employees and employers are also battling financial struggles which take a toll on their mental health.

“Our appeal is for a better economic package and a mental health strategy including a helpline for mental health,” he said.

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