Schooling after COVID-19: expert says Malta must get its act in order for 2020

Academics have been invited to share their thoughts on what happens to the academic year in September 2020 at a Nationalist Party press conference

Former Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta, Prof. Sandro Caruana
Former Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta, Prof. Sandro Caruana

Prof. Sandro Caruana, a former dean of the University of Malta’s Faculty of Education, has praised Malta’s teachers for rising to the occasion of COVID-19, but warned there was not much time left to address the “great limitations” that e-learning has. 

Caruana was speaking at a PN conference on the future of education, in the post-pandemic landscape organised on Saturday.

It was important to invest in structures and equipment, Caruana said, but more than that to invest in teachers, their training and continuous professional development. “Things change and often do so radically, but Malta’s teachers rose to the occasion. Teachers were required to change their lesson plans, learn how to use new software and adapt their teaching methods to e-learning in under a week.”

They also often had to perform their professional duties whilst taking care of their families, he said.

“[On e-learning] we are using a distance-learning solution which is synchronic, that is, according to a time-table. But e-learning is not just this. There are many other methods, which have not been used fully.”

Unblended e-learning has great limitations, he said, amongst them the lack of interaction with other children and the fact that it depends on motivating children to be part of the lesson. “There is also the problem of absenteeism… The longer distance learning is used, the burdens will outweigh the benefits. We need to move on to the next phase.”

Education Minister Owen Bonnici recently announced a think tank made up of experts in various fields, to come up with proposals on the future of education by 14 September.

Bonnici said the think-tank is being instructed to apply “blue sky thinking” and brainstorm ideas without considering the barriers of financial constraints.

Prof. Caruana and other speakers at the conference expressed disappointment at the fact that parents and teaching representatives were excluded from the think-tank. “God forbid this think-tank works like the process from 2016 for the new law on education. It passed through parliament recently but we haven’t heard anything about it being implemented,” he said.

He pointed out that there are already guidelines on the reopening of schools, issued by Unicef. “In April it published an international framework and it is available on the internet. It is a good starting point, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

“We don’t have a lot of time. September is near. This scholastic year has almost finished. Teachers worked miracles to finish the year well. We need good solutions for next year. Not opening of schools necessarily, but how they will be opened... We need a concrete plan as to what is possible and how it is to be implemented,” he said. 

The future is here and we must think of it for the good of the children who are very frustrated, said the professor. According to a recent study, 97% of children said they prefer school to e- learning, he said. “For their sake we must act and act quickly.”

One of the speakers at the conference, Dr Glorianne Borg Axisa, from the Maltese Association of Parents of State School Students highlighted that the importance of parents in education increased with the pandemic. Dr. Borg Axisa said that parents should also be part of working groups and think tanks on the future of education. They needed direction on how to help and were stakeholders in their children’s future, she said.