A petition calling for primary schoolchildren to be allowed to take off face masks while seated in class is gathering steam, with over 1,500 having signed it in a week.

While PE, lab work and classroom birthday parties will be permitted this scholastic year, children would have to continue wearing face coverings in class, the education ministry recently announced.

Concerned parent Evicka Grech, who is behind the petition, said the measure had serious repercussions on children and was excessive given the risks involved.

“The younger children who are learning how to read and write especially struggle. 

“You can’t speak properly and understand someone when they are speaking from behind a face mask. How can you teach phonics in this way,” she asked.

“And seeing as measures have been relaxed elsewhere, I can’t see why we are imposing these strict rules on children who are sitting down in a ventilated classroom, with desks that are placed 1.5 metres apart,” she added.

Children should be given a chance to experience school life in a less restrictive manner

The petition supported mask-wearing for children at all other times at school except when the children were eating and engaging in physical activity.

But it made the argument that if people were allowed to sit six at a table and not wear a mask while they dined at a restaurant, then how did it make sense to compel children to don masks at their desks. 

Apart from disrupting their learning, Grech referred to research showing face coverings on schoolchildren had an adverse impact in an educational setting.

According to one study, covering the lower half of the face reduces the ability to communicate, interpret and model the expressions of those with whom we interact.

The study found that face masks could impair the students’ ability to recognise emotions, hindering positive social interactions and the ability to understand and empathise with each other.

Grech also underlined that both WHO and UNICEF advise the use of masks for children aged between six and 11 where there is widespread transmission in the area where the child resides.

“Given the very high rate of vaccinated individuals in Malta and the low number of COVID-19 cases, children should be given a chance to experience school life in a less restrictive manner, at least when they are sitting down in class and observing other safety measures,” she said.

Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK do not oblige primary school children to wear face masks. On the other hand, mask-wearing is mandatory for primary school children in Spain, France and Italy.

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