Schools across the country are trying to adapt to a post-COVID-19 reality, but the solution offered by the St Aloysius Primary School has left parents concerned they might have to quit their jobs.
In a letter to parents ahead of its reopening to students on 7th October, the popular Church school announced that it has adopted an “alternative timetabling system”.
This means that every class will be divided into two alternating shifts, with the students in Shift A attending school and those in Shift B receiving online lessons.
Students in Shift A will start lessons at 8.15am and finish school at noon, with a 15-minute break in between. Shift B, the online shift, will start at noon and finish at 2pm, with the first half an hour dedicated to non-academic topics like art, PE and PSD so as to allow teachers a half hour break.
During the one-and-a-half-hour long online lessons, teachers will focus on the explanation of topics and address any arising difficulties. Assigned tasks (school/homework) will be worked out by the children following these online sessions.
The next week, students will change their shifts so that everyone will have an equal amount of physical and online learning.
Seeing as 7th October falls on a Wednesday, the first three days will consist of full online learning for everyone, with the first shift commencing on Monday 12th October. This means that half the primary school’s students won’t set foot inside the building until Monday 19th October.
St Aloysius said these measures are being carried out in order to adhere to the public health guidelines for schools, which require them to ensure a 1.5m distance between students and a 2m distance between staff and students is kept at all times.
“We do understand that you will have to take difficult decisions to adapt to this new reality,” the school wrote. “We will continue to do our very best to support you in the best way we can.”
However, parents have warned that these “difficult decisions” will probably mean they will have to quit their jobs, as their children will either finish school at noon or remain at home the entire day.
“We’ll have to leave work at 11:30am one week to pick up our children because they can’t be kept with their grandparents as they are vulnerable to COVID-19, and we’ll have to stay at home with our children the next week. Which employer will accept these working hours?”
“Us parents believe the school didn’t do its utmost to try to accommodate as many students as possible but dumped the problem in our laps, leaving us with no option but to resign from our jobs, even though many of us have loans to pay and it will be impossible for us to cope,” a parent told Lovin Malta.
“Moreover, the learning hours our children will have this year will be far less than those attending other schools – three and a half hours of physical learning a day one week and two hours a day of online learning the following week.”
“Our children will have way less time to cover the syllabus than other kids and this isn’t fair.”
Indeed, public schools haven’t adopted an alternative timetabling system and all their students will attend school physically under a ‘class bubble’ approach, except those whose parents opt to keep them at home. These students won’t be given live online lessons but a series of pre-recorded lessons.
St Aloysius insisted it will be using all spaces in the school to accommodate as many students as possible and that its hall cannot be divided into classrooms since it is the only space they can use for entry and dismissal.
However, the parent argued that it could have used alternative entry and dismissal systems to free up the hall, converted the gym or other spaces into temporary classrooms or installed container classrooms in the year.
“If they needed more donations, I’m sure parents would have complied. I’d gladly give another €1,000 in donations and get to keep my job.”
St Aloysius rector responds
The college’s rector Fr Jimmy Bartolo said the school is working hard to prepare itself to receive students in a safe environment and won’t budge from the physical distancing protocols laid out in the school reopening guidelines, despite facing a lot of pressure, including from some parents, to do just that.
“St Aloysius College is not the only college that is affected by this measure. There are 24 church schools who are affected by the challenge to accommodate all students,” he told Lovin Malta. “We simply do not have the space!”
“Each school is trying to do its utmost to find the best solutions and models for teaching and learning. In my opinion, the protocols published by the Ministry of Health were published late. Consequently, we are experiencing more pressure to adapt to the requirements of these protocols.”
He said the school is exploring the possibility of using or hiring nearby buildings to allow them to accommodate more students, but this is “proving to be more difficult than we thought”.
Fr Bartolo said a “big limitation” was resistance by the Malta Union of Teachers on the proposed transmission of live lessons from the classroom. Both the MUT and the UPE have strongly opposed this proposal as it will effectively force teachers to teach two classes concurrently and expose them to potentially serious privacy risks and surveillance by parents.
“Educators cannot transmit live lessons concurrently to students in the classroom and to others who are at home. A teacher can have a live lesson with half of the class in one room and the other half in another classroom, provided there is a supervisor.”
“Educators cannot record lessons with the presence of students in the classroom. These are very restrictive measures for educators. Can you imagine primary school students spending a whole day watching their teacher on a screen from 8am to 2pm? Is this quality teaching and learning?”
Fr Bartolo said his school’s model provides “quality teaching and learning” and will ensure the school reaches all students everyday, including those who stay at home or are in quarantine.
“Our educators will continue to give live lessons alone from their classrooms from 12.00pm to 2.00pm so that they can reach all students whose turn is to stay at home. With other models, these students are not going to be reached!”
“Moreover, students who are physically present at school till 12.00pm will also have the possibility of joining their online class once they reach their home.”
“Schools who have managed to accommodate all students in class still have to work out how to reach vulnerable students and students who have decided to stay at home. Before we published our protocol, we discussed the draft document with all members of staff and amended it accordingly.”
Fr Bartolo said he is aware parents and guardians will have to “make adjustments” but that he doesn’t want anyone to lose their jobs as a result of these measures.
“We have been in constant dialogue with the Ministry of Education, through the Secretariat for Catholic Education and asked for support for these parents,” he said.
He also referred to a scheme recently launched by the Foundation for Educational Services and the Secretariat for Catholic Education which will babysit Year 1-8 students from all schools when their school models require them to stay at home at particular days or weeks.
However, this scheme is limited to 300 students and a St Aloysius parent warned that it could defeat the purpose of introducing ‘class bubbles’.
“If the solution involves my children mingling with children from other school bubbles and then returning to school the next week, then what is the point of introducing class bubbles in the first place?” she asked.