The Malta Independent 24 September 2023, Sunday
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COVID – a learning curve

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 7 March 2021, 09:23 Last update: about 4 years ago

Justyne Caruana

A year ago, the unimaginable happened. In an attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19, educational institutions were closed down and over night, we moved into an unknown territory, that of educating our student population remotely.

Worldwide, one and a half billion students had their learning hampered due to the decision to close schools. A 2020 report commissioned by UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education, had the following comment to make on the effect of school closures: “The global health pandemic has shined a harsh light on the vulnerabilities and challenges humanity faces. It has provided a clear picture of existing inequalities—and a clearer picture of what steps forward we need to take”.

A study carried out by Di Pietro et al (The likely impact of COVID-19 on education: Reflections based on the existing literature and recent international datasets – European Commission; JCR Report 2020), reveals that, although the adoption of distance learning is key to ensure the continuity of education, students are likely to experience a learning loss during the lockdown.

There is evidence showing that quarantined students tend to spend less time in learning compared to when schools are open, while many students confined at home due to COVID-19 may feel stressed and anxious, and this may negatively affect their ability to concentrate on schoolwork. It was also noted that the physical school closure and the lack of in-person contact made students less externally motivated to engage in learning activities.

As minister responsible for education, I can proudly say that, during the past months, our dedicated and professional committed educators, rose up to the occasion and made that extra effort to make sure that our children could continue with their learning, studies and teaching.     

The teamwork shown by the representatives of the State, Church and Independent Schools and the Malta Union of Teachers, resulted in the formulation of a well-thought plan on what measures should be taken to introduce online teaching; assist the educators, students, parents and guardians to overcome this difficult moment, and come up with solutions to address the impact the pandemic will bring on the academic curriculum.

The Ministry for Education was proactive to see to the needs to accommodate and support all students and educators for the remaining period of last year’s scholastic term. In liaison with the Health Authorities, the schools were reopened by implementing strict protocols, encompassing more than 50 measures, which are rigrously being adhered too in all our schools.

In line with what the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms, that every child has a right to education, as a Government, we invested an additional €30 million to see that there will be the least disruption on our children’s education, as a result of the pandemic.

I agree with a comment made in an article published by the World Economic Forum, which stated that, “For a while now, educators around the world have been talking about the need to rethink how we educate future generations. This might just be the disruption that the sector needed to get us all to rethink how we educate, and question what we need to teach and what we are preparing our students for.”

It is our duty to anticipate tomorrow’s world in order to be better placed to turn challenges into opportunities. The COVID-19 crisis may well change our world and our global outlook. It may also teach us about how education needs to change to be able to better prepare our young learners for what the future might hold.

This pandemic surely showed us how important it was the investment made in information technology, both in infrastructure and its teaching. One such initiative was the  one tablet per child initiative to provide every fourth year primary school student, with a free tablet. This enabled us to mainstream digital tools in education systems. As a country we were the first in the EU to switch to online teaching after the abrupt closure of our schools.

The enhancement of digital literacy amongst young learners, is a priority for Malta. To this end, the Ministry for Education is working on A National Strategy for Digital Education and Transversal Skills, targeting students, educators, parents/guardians and citizens.

The future lies in the emerging digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things; Artificial Intelligence, and Big Data. All this will create new opportunities to our younger generation. Let us work together to grasp these opportunies and prepare a better Quality of Life for our children.

Dr Justyne Caruana is Minister for Education


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