The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

Extraordinary times

Owen Bonnici Friday, 10 April 2020, 17:51 Last update: about 5 months ago

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. We cannot deny that the COVID-19 pandemic brought about changes in all aspects of our so-called normal life. We are going through extraordinary times, hoping that this period will soon be over so that we will go back to what we are accustomed to. However, this phase has also led to extraordinary measures taken to help all to cope with the situation.

I reiterate that the Ministry for Education started working immediately to ease the difficulties that students and their parents and guardians started facing with the abrupt closure of schools and all education institutions.

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We started introducing all the necessary measures and implemented procedures to help our students.

First and foremost we set up a Working Group made up of representatives from the all three sectors: State, Church and Independent Schools, together with the Malta Union of Teachers with a remit to explore methods of online teaching during this period as well as to explore the impact of the present situation on the curriculum.

Online teaching is now the norm for our educators and students for the rest of this ‘scholastic year’. During a couple of visits, I witnessed fervour in this new teaching platform from both sides. Still, I was not content with the situation, as I knew that we have a section of our community that due to personal circumstances did not have internet access at home. I needed to remedy this, as I strongly believe that no student should be left struggling to catch up with his peers, or be a victim of the situation.

To help out, we are now providing free internet access to all students’ households who lacked it. The smile on these students’ faces when they learnt that they would not be lagging behind was priceless.

The online learning system is complemented by several other measures. Educators can ask for support in this directly through their schools or through the dedicated website and helplines https://digitalliteracy.skola.edu.mt/. An educational resources repository is freely available on www.curriculum.gov.mt and it is constantly being updated. Our site on Facebook – Edukazzjoni – is a reference point for new material and updates.

On top of all, we also established a helpline: 2598 1000. All those having any kind of difficulty pertaining to this sector can call this dedicated landline and at the other end will be greeted by professionals in all sectors to guide and discuss.

We also managed to coordinate a sizeable number of meetings with the full cooperation of key partners in the education sector. Among the partners who gave all their support are the Departments in the Ministry, representatives of Church and Independent schools, MATSEC, MCAST, the University of Malta, the Maltese Union for Teachers, University Student Council and Junior College Student Council. Through this applauded cooperation, we published comprehensive national plans that will lead to the opening of the 2020-2021 school and academic year.

The plan covers all levels in the education sector from kindergarten and primary to the University of Malta and MCAST. This plan explains how children and students will go from year to year throughout all levels of their educational journey, the introduction of a predictive mark instead of SEC exams and the opportunity for students to take the SEC in September, when the Intermediate and Advanced MATSEC will take place, student admissions to post-secondary institutions and student admissions provisionally even within the University, MCAST and ITS. Again, this easy reference guide can be accessed through the Ministry’s social media platforms.

Unfortunately, we also have a number of students – about 500 – who, again due to personal family circumstances, usually do not take their daily lunches to school. These are continuing to benefit from the so-called Scheme 9 and during school closure, they are still receiving these packed lunches. We are seeing to the delivery of these to their doorstep.

During this extraordinary time, we left no one by the wayside. Lifelong learning courses are very popular and very important; suffice to say that this year there are more than 8,500 adults taking a course. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, all academic courses - 197 - were converted and can be found online.

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School closure also meant empty schools. We are utilising our spaces to help other entities and ministries – a temporary CPD station in Dingli; a childcare centre in San Gwann; a full-blown kitchen catering for Mater Dei Staff in Kirkop; a 3D printer field in Zabbar – printing protective visors for our healthcare community.

We also embarked on several maintenance, refurbishing and upkeep projects. The dedicated workers at our various colleges and those at the Precincts Management Unit have daily tasks during which they are revamping classes, halls and corridors, repairing and plastering, whitewashing and whatnot.

With construction work finished at the new Qawra School, we are currently fast paced on the necessary interior works, including lighting and water services, air related services, conditioning, information technology services, health services, as well as installation of lifts to make the school fully accessible to all.

I appreciate the valuable work being done in our schools which ultimately will be enjoyed not only by our dedicated educators but especially our children.

This is also part of the enjoyable journey which education should be – not only through learning and through teaching, but also an enjoyable and best environment for our children’s second home.

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Even though we will not be celebrating Easter Sunday in the traditional manner, I wish all readers of this newspaper A Blessed Easter. Abide by the Health Authority’s instructions and stay safe!

 

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