Updated | ‘Closing schools is the hardest decision we had to take’ – Justyne Caruana

‘Tough month ahead’ for schools as Justyne Caruana says cooperation from everyone will ensure children get the best education in the circumstances • Clyde Puli says schools unprepared to go online despite having a year to prepare for eventuality

Education Minister Justyne Caruana
Education Minister Justyne Caruana

Updated at 10:47am with Clyde Puli reaction

Closing schools was “the hardest decision” government had to take, the Education Minister said 24 hours after new restrictions were introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Justyne Caruana told parliament on Thursday the decision was taken after all-day talks with the Malta Union of Teachers and other stakeholders.

“We have a tough month ahead but with the cooperation of everyone we can assure that our children get the best education in the circumstances,” she said.

Schools will physically close on Monday and remain shut until 11 April as part of new measures announced yesterday that include the closure of non-essential shops and services.

Speaking in parliament during a debate on the COVID-19 emergency, Caruana said education will shift online and talks were continuing to ensure children receive the best education possible.

She said particular attention will be paid to students in Year 11 (Form 5) and Year 13, who are currently taking their mock exams in preparation for their O and A levels, respectively.

Caruana added that the authorities were evaluating how to help children recover the education they lost over the past 12 months because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

'Back to square one' - Puli

In a hard-hitting reaction, Opposition spokesperson Clyde Puli said it was incomprehensible how the ministry had not prepared an action plan to be able to switch online seamlessly despite having a year to prepare for this eventuality.

"We are back to square one... after one year during which we knew that going online was a possibility, schools are unprepared and the minister tells us talks are ongoing," Puli said, adding the ministry also did not have enough laptops to distribute among staff members.

He said the government's lax attitude allowed it to reopen schools in January despite the contrary advice of public health experts. "It is obvious that children's place is in schools but if there is an emergency we have to adapt," Puli insisted.