The decision to close all English language schools as from Wednesday was “unwarranted” and “disproportionate”, taken without consultation with stakeholders, the organisation representing the schools has charged.
The Federation of English Language Teaching Organisations of Malta (FELTOM) said in a statement on Saturday that its member schools were “unprepared and shocked” by the government’s “unexpected and rigid decision” to close them down following a spike in COVID-19 cases.
On Friday, the government announced that from Wednesday, all English language schools are to close and all travelers arriving in Malta must present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate to make their trip, amid a rise in virus infections over the past week.
“The sudden announcement of the closure of a specific section of the tourism market will be problematic not only for language schools but also for the entire tourism sector and other stakeholders, not to mention the greater EU tourism market," the federation said.
It added: “This sudden unilateral decision by the government sends out a message that a cluster that did not emerge from any breach of protocols by operators within their schools, can lead to such disproportionate and extreme measures."
While saying it respected the decision to restrict entry to Malta to fully vaccinated persons, the federation said not enough time was given for those affected by the decision to manage “this sudden reversal of policies for all tourism”.
“We feel that this is a drastic reaction reached by the government without proper consultation with the stakeholders of the consequences and implications on the ELT schools, its employees, its students - present and future - and all stakeholders. Even with fully vaccinated tourists, we can expect that similar clusters will occur in hotels and other tourist establishments and we ask to what extent will the government take similar measures to close these operators,” it said.
Schools had followed the rules
It said schools were following rigorous rules and guidelines given by the health authorities and had invested heavily in terms of time, money, manpower and materials so that their schools operate within the parameters of these guidelines. Although schools made mask-wearing mandatory for employees and students, the government was “barely visible” to enforce these rules.
The federation said the closure of all schools was not warranted and they demanded that they be allowed to remain open and offer services to fully vaccinated people who come to Malta to study English.
“We condemn the lack of direction from government, considering the thousands of clients already on the island currently left with no guidance and direction,” the federation said.
Sources close to the industry said that students currently in Malta will probably shift to online lessons as from Wednesday, to be able to finish the course they had booked. Schools were also shifting back to online lessons for those who want to study English but cannot travel to Malta.
Vouchers for language students to be withdrawn
Cash vouches for language students will no longer be issued following the decision to close language schools from Wednesday, a spokesman for the tourism authorities has confirmed.
Health Minister Chris Fearne announced the closure of the schools on Friday after a spike of new COVID-19 cases, mostly among young unvaccinated language students.
In May, the government announced that every student coming to Malta for more than two weeks to study English would be handed a €10 voucher for every day spent in Malta up to a maximum of €300.
The €1 million scheme was part of efforts to boost the English Language Tuition (ELT) sector and the government expected some €7 million to be generated back into the economy.
When asked what will happen to such vouchers, the spokesperson replied;
“Any vouchers which would not have been distributed by this coming Wednesday will be withdrawn from all the English Language Schools.”
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