Historically speaking, education has been the great divider for employment, especially locally. Education is positively correlated with income and education is also inversely correlated with unemployment. In other words, generally speaking, the more education you have, the more money you earn and the lower the chance you are unemployed.

A more educated population will be more employable and therefore wealthier. Having said this, during the coronavirus lockdown period, relatively less-paid employees like nurses and healthcare workers were the real heroes of the success Malta achieved.

Unfortunately, Malta has a very high number of early school and education leavers and is ranked the one before the last in the EU, as the accompanying graphic shows. Online schooling might help to address this problem.

English language teaching is also well established on the Maltese islands, so schools have a pool of experienced teachers to cater for all ages and all levels of English. There are over 40 language schools in Malta and Gozo, offering a range of courses and leisure-time activities.

Every year, over 80,000 foreign students attend English language courses at local licensed English language teaching (ELT) schools. The largest share of language students is aged 15 years or less, making up approximately 30 per cent of total students.

Online learning is certainly the more effective option for students, and it is also better for the environment. The Open University in Britain has found that online courses equate to an average of 90 per cent less energy and 85 per cent fewer CO2 emissions per student than traditional in person courses.

Everyone can access education no matter where they are. Online learning helps to eliminate borders and barriers, both social and physical. They are an ideal solution to the mobility challenges people face as they are provided with high-quality education wherever they are and at whatever time is most convenient.

Though online courses offer many benefits, they are not right for every student. Such courses do not lead to the social interaction students would have with peers in a physical classroom setting. And some students simply learn better in a collaborative setting than they do on their own.

The pandemic has basically speeded up what was envisaged would be happening in the next three years

If you have taken face-to-face classes all your life, being a little apprehensive at online learning at the beginning is normal, even if one is tech-savvy. However, taking an online course, as opposed to a face-to-face class, definitely has its plusses:

There are five advantages to studying online:

• Studying online gives you more flexibility. You can work and fit your work schedule around your coursework more easily; even more so if you are not restricted to log in at a specific time for a live lesson but you can study and interact with your instructor and your fellow classmates at your own pace through, for example, a discussion forum.

• In a survey conducted by The Learning House, 44 per cent of online students reported improvements in their employment standing, for example by obtaining a full-time job within 12 months of graduation, and 45 per cent reported a salary increase.

• By the time you finish your online course, you will have gained more work experience and learned new skills that will help you advance in your career.

• By studying online, you choose your own learning environment that works best for your needs: be it your bedroom, your study, the café across the street or even your local gym.

• Taking an online course also means you do not have to commute to class, which means less time spent on the bus and more study time sitting on your couch.

An English schoolteacher with many years of experience admitted that online teaching has been in the pipeline for quite some time. Many teachers are doing it freelance because it is more lucrative. More money is an incentive, while the schools are reliable and backed by an aggressive marketing team.

Students attending a university course online find that they do not have to travel, and lessons can be tailor-made to their requirements, which are practically one-to-one lessons. In groups they would lose the sole attention of the teacher but gain through other students’ knowledge, or lack of it.

The pandemic has basically speeded up what was envisaged would be happening in the next three years.

What a lot of students found when coming to Malta was that they were learning but also having a holiday. Unfortunately, the rents and the attitudes of the Maltese were starting to irk quite a lot of them. The Maltese were taking them for granted and looking at them as a nuisance.

Good host families were becoming rarer. On one hand the host family was not being paid enough by schools, and on the other, the students coming from places like Brazil, Columbia or Venezuela were not exactly rolling in money, so they expected their money’s worth.

As teachers, we were expected to assess their needs and teach accordingly. The dynamics of a live class, when it gels, leaves very positive feelings. You can never get this feeling online.

I asked my grandchild, a Form 1 secondary student, to tell me what he thinks of online schooling. He had mixed feelings.

He said online learning is more comfortable and more flexible. Yet he admitted it was a bit confusing and less organised than a classroom. Studying alone can also be boring, and he misses the classroom friends and playing during break and the interaction between the whole class.

The trend is set and there is no doubt that online schooling will be the future method of education. Through online courses, schools and universities have made a tremendous impact on instruction and student learning.

Distance education opportunities have brought the classroom from university or college settings to the home, allowing students the privilege of pursuing college degrees without the inconvenience of travelling to campus to undertake the course. Time will tell.

(Concluded. Part 1 was published on July 5.)

Joe Azzopardi is a freelance writer, ex-communications coordinator in various ministries

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