Students will not be returning to school on Wednesday as planned with the reopening of school pushed by a week and staggered over a seven-day period, the government announced on Friday. 

In a statement, the Education Ministry said that children and students attending compulsory education in state schools will not start schooling on Wednesday but instead will start “on different dates, according to their year group, over a period of not more than one week starting from the October 7”.

“While the first day of school will be different according to the respective year group, by October 14, all students will be back to school,” the ministry said. 

Education Minister Owen Bonnici speaks to Times of Malta while visiting the Birkirkara government primary on Thursday. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Parents and custodians will be receiving detailed information from schools later on Friday. The ministry also affirmed that parents and custodians are free to decide whether or not to send their children to school this year. They must, however, inform educators of their decision. 

Centres providing childminding will continue to operate until schools reopen fully on October 14.

Malta’s schools were shut in March as the first COVID-19 cases started being detected.

They remained closed until the end of the scholastic year. Since then, the government has been adamant that it is crucial for students to receive an education in schools, despite the unions’ calls for teaching to be carried out online while the number of new COVID-19 infections continued to increase.

Church schools will be following a similar protocol, according to a statement on Facebook by the Secretariat for Christian Education.

Teachers’ union reacts

In a statement, the Malta Union of Teachers said it welcomed the decision to stagger the students' return to school. 

“This has been requested by the MUT during the meetings held in the past weeks. Staggering shall enable schools to control better the implementation of the protocol and to adjust the practices being adopted to safeguard the health and safety of educators and students,” the union said. 

Ahead of the students’ return, educators will be reporting to school to prepare for the upcoming year, the MUT said, focusing on changes of a “curricular and pedagogical nature”.

“The implementation of the protocol shall impact the work of educators and hence preparations and co-ordination is necessary. In this sense the MUT’s role will be essential so that specific issues within schools are identified by members in order to be addressed. For this aim, later today the MUT will issue an online form to be filled in by members in which they will be encouraged to send their feedback,” the union said. 

Meanwhile, Education Minister Owen Bonnici told Times of Malta on Thursday that it was crucial that educators, students and parents work together to make sure the upcoming scholastic year is a success despite the ongoing challenges as a result of the pandemic. 

The minister urged everyone to follow the protocols in place, urging parents to help educators by following the guidelines in place. 

Parents’ reaction

The Maltese Association of Parents of State School Students (MAPSSS) welcomed the news and the fact that the authorities accepted its request for an extension of the Bridge Holidays Service and Klabb 316 for working parents.

It insisted that by the first day of school opening, all the preparatory work to implement the health authorities’ COVID-19 school protocols should be in place and explained to parents.

MAPSSS reiterated that action was necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to an extent that in-school teaching can be deemed a safe option for students and educators. 

It appealed to the government to heed the advice of the head of the Infections Disease Prevention and Control Unit - a government-appointed expert – to ensure that schools can reopen in a safe way.

Schools which are ready to open should do so – Malta Chamber

The development was also welcomed by the Malta Chamber of Commerce Enterprise and Industry which, however, said schools which are in a position to open should do so.

“There is no logical reason for schools which are ready to open, to remain closed and deprive students of a week of face-to-face education at this juncture,” it said in a statement.

The chamber said it appeared that a national consensus in favour of schools opening in October had been reached and added it worked tirelessly over the past months towards this goal.

It said it was, however, dismayed at the fact that a decision for a delayed, staggered opening has been communicated at the eleventh hour. 

While a staggered approach may be a valuable solution to the logistical challenges being faced, the last-minute decision will certainly have further adverse effects on students, working parents and their employers.

Ministry was unprepared – PN

The Nationalist Party said schools are opening later because the Education Ministry was unprepared, although it had been clear that the pandemic was to continue.

It was now important that this postponement is used to ensure that the work that had not been done to ensure health and safety is carried out, a real effort is made to control the spread and for the necessary preparations to be carried out for high-quality online education.

The PN said that following this additional preparation period, the situation should be reevaluated before other decisions are taken.

 

 

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