The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Education - Taking stock of the reopening of schools

Saturday, 14 November 2020, 08:48 Last update: about 20 days ago

One of the main concerns during a summer punctuated by an increase in Covid-19 cases was on how the reopening of schools was going to be handled.

The government – through both Education Minister Owen Bonnici and Prime Minister Robert Abela – insisted that students should physically return to their classrooms, with the latter saying that it would be an “educational catastrophe” if this would not happen.

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However, a significant chunk of parents took umbrage at this idea – with concerns spreading also to educators and their unions who all continued to insist that schooling should move exclusively online.

The crux of the concerns of these people was that the reopening of schools would bring an increase in cases to the point that the country’s health services would be unable to cope with the increase.

Indeed even after extensive health protocols were published and implemented, and schools reopened, those concerns remained.  They were further amplified by calls from one of the unions representing educators – the UPE – who published countless calls in favour of schools moving online, and also took it upon itself to report what they themselves described as “alleged cases” of Covid-19 within schools.

These reports have not always been correct – to the point that the union themselves has said that it cannot assume responsibility for how true they are – and no distinction whatsoever is made on what the source of the said alleged cases is.

Regardless of this point however, it is a fact that the case numbers have increased further in recent weeks.

As confirmed by Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci though, this increase has not by any means come due to the reopening of schools.

Indeed, Gauci on Friday said in her weekly briefing that there have been no cases of transmission between children at schools, although there have been members of staff – like in any other workplace – who have tested positive leading to the need for quarantine for their close contacts.

Gauci said that these results show that the protocols laid out by health authorities and adopted by schools across the country have borne fruit – a statement we are inclined to agree with.

It is heartening to see that while other countries were forced to shut schools in certain areas due to Covid-19, in Malta there has been no such instance of this happening.

The government’s response to the second wave of this pandemic can be justifiably criticised when it comes to certain sectors – however, based on present statistics, the education sector is not one which can be criticised in such a manner.

Of course concerns that things could go south at any given moment remain – and it is good for such concerns to continue to exist because the wariness that they bring about is what will keep everybody on their toes in continuing to follow the protocols as set out by the authorities.

We know how things can change in a matter of days with this virus, so any lapse of judgement could prove significant. 

However, it is good to see that thus far, no lapses that have resulted in sustained transmission of the virus within schools have occurred.  Long may that be the case.

 

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