Parents have the option of keeping their children home this scholastic year, but if they go down this route, their education will consist of a series of pre-recorded lessons.
During a recent visit to the San Ġorġ Preca College Ħamrun Secondary School, Education Minister Owen Bonnici urged parents to send their children to school next month, stating that it is a “cardinal principle” for the government that physical learning is better than online.
Those who keep their children at home out of concern of potential COVID-19 risks will see their sons and daughters follow the same curriculum online through a series of pre-recorded lessons.
Bonnici said the government has issued a public call for the provision of such lessons, year by year, which will be added to the Education Ministry’s website Teleskola incrementally. Each lesson will last no longer than 20 minutes due to research indicating that this is the optimum length for online lessons before children start zoning out.
These pre-recorded lessons will also be available as supplementary material for children who physically attend school.
Bonnici said the government decided against live streaming classes to children who remain at home because this proposal was met with resistance from the two teachers’ unions.
“Their argument was that a classroom environment is particular and cannot be transmitted outside the classroom,” he said.
However, if a classroom is forced to go into quarantine, lessons will be held fully online in real time as they were during Malta’s partial lockdown earlier this year.
“The alternative proposed by some people of going 100% online would have been so much worse,” Bonnici said. “Had we gone down that path, it would have constituted a dereliction of duty.”
“There’s a difference between learning and education,” the ministry’s permanent secretary Frank Fabri argued. “Learning can be done online but education is about way more than learning.”
State schools are set to gradually reopen on 7th October, a week later than originally planned, so as to give teachers time to get used to the several new health protocols.
Students’ exact starting dates depend on which year group they form part of, with the final cohort of students set to enter school on 14th October.
Teachers and students will have to adjust to a completely new environment, with students restricted to contact with those placed in their same ‘bubble’.
Students older than 11, as well as all staff, must wear masks throughout the day, while students younger than 11 will be allowed to keep their masks off in the classroom but will have to wear them elsewhere.
Everyone will have to pass a temperature check before being allowed inside, several hand sanitising stations are present, and isolation rooms have been set up at every school in case someone falls sick.
Footprints mark the floor all over, encouraging students to stick to the left as they move from room to room so as to reduce contact with students from different ‘bubbles’ as much as possible.
However, the threat that a student or teacher could test positive for COVID-19 remains ever-present. If a single person tests positive, then everyone they came into contact with at school, as well as all the household members, will have to go into quarantine for two weeks.
Cover photo: Left: Owen Bonnici observes perspex installed to separate desks at a staff room; Right: Hand sanitiser strategically placed on a teacher’s desk ahead of the reopening of schools
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