The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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Feltom struggles to find host families post-Covid-19 pandemic

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 23 June 2024, 09:00 Last update: about 22 days ago

Ensuring a welcoming environment for international students is crucial for Feltom-accredited schools in Malta, yet the availability of host families has posed challenges this summer.

Rebecca Bonnici, chairperson of Feltom, acknowledges these difficulties: "Yes, we have indeed encountered some difficulties in finding host families this summer." She notes that many previously licensed families opted not to renew their licences in the wake of the pandemic, causing issues for schools seeking accommodation for students.

The absence of genuine host families is keenly felt by both schools and students who value the opportunity to engage deeply with Maltese life and traditions.

"Staying with a local host family provides students with an immersive cultural experience, allowing them to truly engage with the local way of life and customs," she said in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday.

The rich interaction and daily engagement with local families are what make studying in Malta unique compared to other destinations. The hospitality of Maltese families allows students not just to learn English in a classroom but also to practise it in real-life situations, enhancing their language skills and cultural understanding.

In response to these challenges, Feltom has implemented strategic initiatives in collaboration with the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and the ELT Council.

Bonnici explained: "We are actively working to encourage more families to participate once again." This concerted effort aims to preserve and enhance Malta's reputation for authentic Mediterranean hospitality, a cornerstone of the educational experience offered by Feltom-accredited schools. Encouraging more families to open their homes again is essential for maintaining the high standard of student experience that Feltom prides itself on.

Bonnici shared Feltom's plans and strategies for the upcoming summer season.

"This summer, our primary focus will be on ensuring the highest standards of quality and safety across our member schools and their annexes, for all our clients, regardless of their ages," said Bonnici.

Accreditation inspections play a crucial role in maintaining these standards, ensuring every student receives the best possible educational experience in a safe and supportive environment. The inspections are meticulous and cover a wide range of criteria, from the quality of teaching to the safety measures in place at the schools. These rigorous inspections are fundamental in upholding the reputation of Feltom-accredited institutions, she said.

Additionally, Feltom continues to host alcohol-free, safe junior parties on a weekly basis, fostering a sense of community and cultural exchange among younger students while prioritising their safety and well-being. These events provide a fun and engaging environment where students can socialise, make new friends and practise their English in a relaxed setting. The focus on safety and sobriety ensures that these gatherings are enjoyable and secure, reflecting Feltom's commitment to student welfare.

To ensure member schools are prepared for the busy summer season, Feltom employs a comprehensive accreditation process.

"For those schools due for a full inspection, we conduct thorough visits to ensure they meet our stringent standards," Bonnici said. Schools are also required to submit a rigorous Internal Quality Audit document, reviewed meticulously by accreditation officers. This internal audit process is an essential part of maintaining high standards across all member schools, ensuring that every aspect of the student experience is considered and optimised.

Professional development is another key focus, with training workshops tailored to various roles within member schools. These workshops are designed based on feedback from the schools themselves, ensuring they address the real needs and challenges faced by staff.

The most recent initiative includes specialised training for new accreditation officers, equipping them with the necessary skills to uphold Feltom's high standards. These measures collectively ensure that schools are not only ready to welcome an influx of students but also to provide a consistently high-quality educational experience. The emphasis on continuous improvement and professional development helps maintain a high level of teaching and student support.

Feltom-accredited schools offer a variety of special summer programmes and activities to enhance the student experience both academically and socially. Schools integrate classroom activities with cultural events, providing a rich, immersive learning experience. For example, lessons might be linked with local festivals or historical tours, allowing students to connect what they learn in the classroom with real-world experiences. This approach not only makes learning more engaging but also helps students better retain and understand the material.

Social programmes leverage Malta's favourable climate and rich history, including guided tours of historical sites, outdoor sports and cultural festivals. These initiatives aim to foster a sense of community and encourage cultural exchange, ensuring a well-rounded experience for students. Participating in these activities allows students to explore Malta's unique heritage, from its ancient temples to its vibrant contemporary culture. These experiences are designed to be educational and enjoyable, offering students a break from their studies while still contributing to their overall learning journey.

Health and safety remain paramount for Feltom schools, particularly in light of ongoing health concerns, she said. Each school and its annexes must be certified in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), ensuring all health and safety standards are thoroughly met. Regular safety audits, adherence to local and international health guidelines and continuous monitoring and improvement of safety protocols are standard practices.

These stringent measures ensure that students can focus on their studies and enjoy their time in Malta without worrying about their well-being. The health and safety protocols cover everything from hygiene practices to emergency response plans, ensuring that every possible precaution is taken.

Bonnici is optimistic about the future, noting positive trends in student numbers and activities.

"The recently released national statistics for English Language Teaching in Malta indicate that we are well on our way to returning to pre-Covid levels," she said.

This recovery is a testament to the resilience and dedication of Feltom and its member schools. She said that the upcoming data from the Deloitte Feltom annual benchmarking exercise will offer deeper insights into student arrivals, demographics and business functions, guiding efforts to further enhance educational and social experiences. This data will help Feltom and its member schools understand trends, identify areas for improvement and plan strategically for the future.

Feltom's marketing strategies to attract students are robust and year-round. Participation in international trade shows, organising annual workshops for language travel agents and conducting familiarisation trips are key strategies. These efforts help showcase the quality and benefits of studying in Malta and Gozo. The familiarisation trips, in particular, are an effective way to give agents a firsthand experience of what Feltom schools have to offer, making it easier for them to recommend these schools to prospective students.

These marketing efforts are supported by the ELT Council and the MTA, which helps enhance the reach and effectiveness of Feltom's campaigns. The collaboration with these organisations ensures that Feltom's message reaches a wide audience, attracting students from all over the world. This joint effort highlights the unique advantages of studying in Malta, from its high-quality education and beautiful environment to its rich cultural heritage and welcoming community.

Feltom also supports students in adjusting to life in Malta. While individual schools provide dedicated staff and resources to assist students, Feltom maintains an open-door policy for any questions or concerns, ensuring students have a reliable point of contact. This support network helps students feel more comfortable and confident as they settle into their new environment. The availability of assistance and advice ensures that students can focus on their studies and enjoy their time in Malta, she said.

The primary nationalities of students this summer include German, Italian, French and Spanish with new arrivals from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary enhancing the diversity of the student population. This diversity enriches the student experience, providing opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and understanding. Students from different backgrounds bring their perspectives and experiences, making the learning environment more dynamic and inclusive, Bonnici added.

While teenagers constitute a significant portion of the student body during the summer, adult learners are also a vibrant part of Malta's ELT landscape. These adult learners participate in general English courses, exam preparations and specialised professional courses. The presence of adult students adds another dimension to the learning environment, as they often bring a wealth of life experiences and professional knowledge that can enrich classroom discussions. This diversity of age groups reflects Feltom's commitment to providing comprehensive educational experiences for learners of all ages and backgrounds, Bonnici said.

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