It’s not just about sick leave | Arthur Muscat
After Rahman death, language schools urge curfews, enforcement of drinking limits
Possibility for supervision by police officers should be discussed, language schools.
30 July 2012, 12:00am
The Russian girl's disappearance has rekindled the debate on how to make the streets safer for everyone, including locals.
But as an EFL student, Rahman's disappearance has also again given rise to criticism as to why foreign students - usually aged between 14 and 17 - are allowed to roam the streets in Paceville and St Julian's at all hours of the night.
This has in turn fuelled debate on whether curfews should be imposed to the foreign students, and whether police officers monitoring Paceville should look out for any underage, unsupervised students and report them to their respective schools.
According to Police Commissioner John Rizzo, this is the sole responsibility of the schools. "The Police are invested to keep law and order but in this case it is believed that the schools' administration ought to take care of this matter," Rizzo told MaltaToday.
"It is the school that brings the students to the island, with the aim of teaching them English and hence they are responsible for the well-being of the students under the age of 18."
One thing that schools all agree upon is that they all enforced curfews - some more strictly than others.
EF's representative in Malta, Roger Bugeja, insists that the school runs several different language programs, from group travel programs with full supervision and strictly-enforced curfews to programmes for independent individual students with recommended curfew times and clear and helpful welfare advice.
By far, this policy is adopted by all language schools in Malta.
While agreeing that a reasonable curfew should be imposed by the individual schools, ESE's chief executive Sean LeGault says that enforcing it by law would be "discriminatory and unrealistic".
"Why are we only discussing EFL students when there are many young people, Maltese and others, frequenting similar places on the island? What we should really be focusing on is making our streets safe for all children, whether in St Julian's, Pembroke or elsewhere," LeGault argues.
However LeGault, whose comments are echoed by the EASY's leisure and welfare manager Ian Duncan, insists that police officers should be enforcing laws with respect to minors, in particular the drinking laws and free sale of alcohol.
"Police officers should not be enforcing curfew times, that is the responsibility of the individual schools, host families and parents in the case of Maltese children," LeGault says.
"More police presence in the Paceville area is most certainly needed along with the supportive infrastructure: a presence of a police station and medical clinic is overdue. After all this is our major night entertainment centre."
LeGault points out that Legal Notice 60 of 1996 - the one that regulates EFL organisations - and the drinking laws in Malta are not in synch. "Ideally we would have a common approach to all issues of smoking, drinking and the classification of a minor," he suggests.
Ian Duncan in fact argues that the police are not doing enough to control students and the behaviour of club owners and bars. "I believe that what has been going on in Paceville is getting out of hand. Another major problem is that police are doing nothing to prevent the problem, but are simply reacting to what happens," Duncan says.
He says that EASY, which unlike major language schools is located on the southern part of the island in Marsaskala, adopts a strict policy against students going to Paceville. "We have very strict regulations that each student must be home by 11:30pm and in bed by midnight. In the case of 16 and 17-year-olds, they are allowed to leave the locality, but cannot go to Paceville, not even with their foreign group leader. If any of the students, together with their group leader, even try to go to Paceville, they are sent back to their country immediately," Duncan says.
He adds that what happened to Rahman has reinforced his argument that Paceville has become a dangerous place: "The government should wake up and smell the coffee and do something about it. As a nation, we have a duty towards the students' parents to ensure the wellbeing of their children."
Duncan also hits out at the police for waiting only till Thursday 19 July, to report Rahman's disappearance: "This is disgusting. She was a young foreigner in Malta. They should have acted earlier."
According to LeGault, this particular incident will likely affect the Russian market next year, "as we are already seeing immediate repercussions from it."
Asked how this case will affect the reputation of EFL schools in Malta, EF's Roger Bugeja reiterates that EF will continue to work with the authorities. "We will continue working with the authorities and the key players involved, to keep improving and finding ways to deliver the best possible educational experience. We continually strengthen our resources in Malta in order to further improve our service," Bugeja says.
On the other hand, Julian Cassar Torregiani, the director at AM Language Studio, argues that the possibility for supervision by police officers should be discussed. "This was an idea that was floated a number of years ago by the respective authorities. However nothing concrete has materialised in this respect and it is something that could possibly be discussed," Cassar Torregiani says.
He also believes that forbidding students from staying out late in Paceville is not discriminatory. "Our legislation clearly states that minors are under the care of the EFL organisations. The legal notice also states that all or any measures are to be taken to 'as may be necessary to safe guard the general well-being of students during their stay in Malta'," he adds.
Another argument that has also emerged is whether a minimum age limit should be set for group leaders. However, this is shot down by the language schools that argue that their group leaders are given the adequate training.
"We think that it is important to have solid procedures for hiring, training and performance evaluation of all team members. In particular looking at such as aspects as maturity, leadership abilities, experience, responsibility and communication skills," EF's Roger Bugeja says.
Cassar Torregiani argues: "We think the issue is not related to team leaders only but to practices being adopted by various organisations that do not necessarily comply with the legal notice. Some organisations seem to be treating students between the ages of 16 to 18 as if they were no longer minors and providing minimal supervision. This could lead to a rise in potential situations of a precarious nature resulting in injury or harm to minors."
ESE's LeGault dismisses the case as simply 'not an issue':
"If necessary in line with EU laws, no more or less. ESE follows European laws and standards imposed by Maltese law, the EFL monitoring board and all of our quality accreditations we hold, that being EAQUALS, IALC and FELTOM."
Ian Duncan also concurs that the important thing is for group leaders to be mature, responsible and committed to their work. "If we were to increase the minimum age of group leaders to say 21, in a way, it would be a potential disaster for language schools and we would be wiping out half of group leaders available to work.
"What's important is that they are selected with a certain level of maturity, given adequate training and made to understand that while they may get friendly with the students, they must be very careful for students not to interpret that friendship in any other way."
Miriam Dalli graduated in communications studies from the University of ...