Most schools would fail to meet minimum hygiene standards imposed by law if they were to be enforced, the Malta Union of Teachers has warned.
Provisions on student density, physical space, sanitary facilities and hygiene were not enforced in practically all schools, union president Marco Bonnici said.
The law, dating back to the 1990s, stipulates among other things that schools should be well ventilated and kept clean.
They must have at least one toilet and a washbasin for every 35 pupils and an “adequate number” of drinking water taps outside bathrooms. The minimum size of classrooms and playground areas are also set by law.
Health inspectors are empowered to evaluate schools’ hygiene conditions at any time and administrators must abide by the instructions given. Yet, enforcement was “practically non-existent”, Mr Bonnici told the Times of Malta in the wake of reports that mouldy air in classrooms had been linked to high asthma rates among schoolchildren.
A study found that the way classrooms were being cleaned was having significant effects on children’s respiratory conditions.
Research conducted by University lecturers Peter Fsadni and Stephen Montefort also found that the cleaning practices in five State schools failed to significantly reduce bacteria and mould in dust.
“The MUT has been drawing the attention of the respective authorities to this but there is no authority within the Ministry of Education that can enforce the law,” Mr Bonnici added.
He noted that school buildings were being used from 7am till late in the evening due to pre-school and after-school programmes.
“This is stretching infrastructures to the limit, with no adequate investment made,” he remarked.
He said the MUT was receiving reports of educators running breakfast clubs and then cleaning desks and floors themselves be-cause cleaning personnel were limited.
A spokeswoman said the Education Ministry had embarked on a training programme in cleaning and hygiene services for 300 members of staff.
Unannounced visits were being made in relation to cleaning services throughout State schools and reports highlighted any shortcomings detected, she said.
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