The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Coronavirus – Reopening of schools

Friday, 31 July 2020, 08:15 Last update: about 8 days ago

Education Minister Owen Bonnici announced in Parliament earlier this week that the official opening date of the new scholastic year is 28 September for government schools. Church and private schools have their own opening day slated on the calendar.

Although we are still more or less two months away from the start of the new scholastic year, parents are already expressing concern on what the post-Coronavirus situation will be.

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The last academic year was abruptly brought to an end in March, when Covid-19 hit the islands. The closing of the schools was one of the drastic measures that the government took, on the advice of the health authorities, to contain the spread of the virus. This situation had its own impact on offices and factories as parents of young children struggled to cope with their working duties and those at home.

Schools had to resort to online teaching for students to complete their syllabus while staying safe. Added to this, end-of year examinations were cancelled, and students who were to sit for ordinary and advanced level sessions were given an evaluation according to their work at school.

Until two weeks ago, the Coronavirus pandemic seemed to be well under control in Malta, with the number of active cases at one point dropping to just three. We were close to normality. But the re-opening of the airport, coupled with the holding of mass activities, led to a surge in the numbers once again. The arrival from North Africa of irregular migrants, many of whom tested positive for the virus, compounded the situation further.

This evolving situation has now led to the cancellation of some mass events that were being planned, also including band marches, given that we now have a cluster of cases emanating from the Santa Venera feast held last week.

It is therefore perhaps too early to say what will happen when schools re-open in September. Will it be business are usual, or will some measures need to be taken? Will students be separated into two groups, one at school and one at home following lectures online? Will students be required to wear masks or visors in class? What is going to happen during recreation time? Are teachers going to accept to carry out their duties in these exceptional circumstances? Will classrooms or whole schools be closed if one or more cases are discovered among students/staff?

The government seems inclined not to re-introduce any more drastic measures whatever the situation will be in September. Prime Minister Robert Abela himself was reported to have said that some of the regulations that were introduced, with hindsight, were too aggressive.

It is clear that the government is now giving more priority to the economic aspect of our way of life, in spite of the reservations being expressed by the medical community. The prime minister is now visiting hotels, and not health centres, as a way of saying that matters are back – or should be back – to the pre-Covid situation.

But, as we have said several times, we are not out of the woods yet. It takes just one case to light up a cluster. Who knows, maybe 28 September will come and schools will not be in a position to open.

 

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