The Malta Independent 15 August 2020, Saturday

‘If protocols are published too late, schools will not open in September’ - MUT president

Giulia Magri Sunday, 2 August 2020, 09:30 Last update: about 13 days ago

If protocols regarding COVID-19 are published at a very late stage, schools will not cope and might not be ready to open in September, Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) president Marco Bonnici told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

“Measures and protocols for SkolaSajf were published just a week before the childcare centres opened; if the case is similar for September, our schools will not cope and will not open be able to open in time. People need time to prepare,” explained Bonnici.

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Earlier this week, Education and Employment Minister Owen Bonnici announced in Parliament that schools will open on 28 September. He said that will the experience gained from Skola Sajf, schools will be prepared to open by then. In the past week Malta has seen a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases. The heath authorities had confirmed that an LSE working at the Luqa summer school and a cleaner who works at the Pieta SkolaSajf were among the new cases.

As the summer months roll on, many parents and educators have spoken about their concerns of what is to happen come September. Many are unsure of what the procedures will be and what measures will be adopted by schools.

This newsroom contacted MUT president Marco Bonnici to get a clearer idea of what discussions are taking place between the Ministry and different entities, and so see what the union’s opinion on the reopening of schools in September is.

“Back when schools closed in March, we began speaking with the Minister to prepare for the different scenarios we might face come September,” explained Bonnici. He mentioned three scenarios in particular; schools opening normally, educational institutions taking on a hybrid schooling system (a balance of online learning and traditional classroom setting), or schools not opening whatsoever.

“It is clear that the government is opening schools in September. Regardless of this, we still must prepare for any scenario, and currently no discussions on this matter are taking place.”

Whilst the Education Minister had told this newsroom that workgroups are meeting and discussing the protocols and measures, Bonnici dismissed this claim. “So far, we are in discussions regarding the curriculum, but not about protocols or measures to be put in place by September.”

Bonnici said the union is disappointed that the Ministry is not taking the summer months as an opportunity to discuss the way forward. “The Minister expressed that SkolaSajf is being used as a model for the protocols and measures which will be adopted in September, but SkolaSajf is simply a model and has nothing to do with a normal school set-up,” Bonnici said.

He said that SkolaSajf have classrooms with no more than five students, a system which would be very difficult for other educational institutions, such as Sixth Forms and University, to take on.

“This is a complex and ever-changing issue, and that is why now is the time to discuss and prepare for September.”

 

Schools should adopt all current protocols and measures

Bonnici said that all schools on all educational levels should adopt the current protocols in place; meaning that staff and students should wear masks/face protectors, temperatures should be checked, and schools should provide hand sanitizers. He said that many educators and parents are concerned that such important protocols will be released at a very late stage. “Everyone needs to be prepared and if, for example, measures include that students will have restricted breaks or breaks in groups, that would be that administration staff will have to revise classroom timetables all over again,” Bonnici explained.

MUT has been gathering feedback from parents and teachers from all educational institutions, be it private, state or religious schools, asking what would be the best protocols and best scenario for schools this September.

“The majority highlighted that a hybrid scenario is simply impossible to adopt,” explained Bonnici. A hybrid school system brings about a number of issues for both educators and parents. “Firstly, there is a lot of planning when it comes to adopting a hybrid system. How would a school work around teaching half a class which is physically present and the other half online? It is also a huge expense for schools and parents. Will parents have to work from home too? What about those educators who are also parents?”

Bonnici said that this scholastic year will not be like any previous one, as life and circumstances have changed drastically. “As we have seen, the pandemic is still with us and discussions are not taking place, when now is the time to sit down and discuss every possibility which could happen come September.”

When asked how MUT members feel about going back to school, he explained that as the situation keeps changing and evolving, so do the members opinions. “Three weeks ago, when cases were low and it seemed like we were controlling the COVID-19 situation, most teachers would have said they felt comfortable and ready to go back to school, along with the current protocols. Now, it is a different situation. Some teachers are worried and fearful of going back to school, and you can understand why they feel that we, we understand their worries, and that is why we need to take immediate steps in discussions.”

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