The Malta Independent 19 April 2021, Monday

‘I would give the green light to open schools’ – UPE chief

Albert Galea Monday, 5 April 2021, 09:31 Last update: about 14 days ago

Union of Professional Educators (UPE) chief Graham Sansone has told The Malta Independent that, given how Covid-19 cases have decreased, he would be comfortable with schools being given the green light to physically re-open.

Schools were physically shut as from 15 March as Malta grappled with over 300 cases of the virus per day and a hospital which was very quickly filling up.

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However, that measure is set to expire next week, with the Easter holidays coming to an end and all restrictions being in place till 11 April.

With cases now down to the 40 to 50 case per day mark and the island having less than 700 active cases from over 3,000 just two weeks ago and the time when restrictions are set to expire, many have been questioning what will be allowed to open and what won’t.

All indications are that schools will be among the first to open their doors, with Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci indicating that education is a priority.

Asked about his thoughts on the prospect of schools reopening, Sansone told this newsroom that the current case numbers and the subsequent reduction after measures were implemented showed clearly what the cause of the spike was.

He said that with numbers at a steady, much lower, number every day, he would give the green light to open schools.

The union Sansone represents – the UPE – was one of the most vociferous in favour of shifting schools to online lessons when cases began to increase.  Their fellow teacher’s union – the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) – had threaded a much more tentative line, but eventually made a similar call.

Attempts to contact MUT President Marco Bonnici for his views on the matter were unsuccessful by the time of writing.

Sansone said that there is one thing he would like the Education Ministry to consider as part of reopening schools: a revision of the current policy surrounding breaktime for the students.

He said that breaktime has seen mixing of bubbles and students roaming together, contrary to the structure and controlled environment that the classroom presents. This mixing is more commonplace in secondary schools, as some classrooms still have to mix because of optional lessons.

Sansone proposed that there be an increase in physical education (PE) lessons in both primary and secondary schools, and that the traditional small break and big break are done away with for now in favour of a 10 or so minute break between each lesson.

A roster can be made to determine when different years can go outside for this short break, which would give them time outdoors but also at least reduce the time that the bubbles can risk being broken.

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