[WATCH] School opening postponement was to allow educators time to adjust - Education Minister

On TVM’s Xtra Education Minister Owen Bonnici says State schools are ready to accept students but urges everyone to pull the same rope

State schools will open for students on 7 October
State schools will open for students on 7 October

Owen Bonnici has defended government’s decision to postpone schools opening by a week, insisting it helped give educators time to adjust.

The Education Minister said the decision was not the result of a lack of preparedness.

Speaking on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday, Bonnici said all preparations were in place for schools to open as planned at the end of September.

“But an adjustment period was provided to give time to educators to get used to the new health and safety protocols,” he said.

When it was pointed out that private schools managed to open their doors before State schools, Bonnici said this boiled down to the agreements reached by these schools with the teachers.

“This wasn’t a question of these schools being better prepared, but that the teachers who work in these schools agreed that the schools should open. In the case of State schools there were discussions with unions and after those discussions we reached an agreement and the deadlock that was there at the beginning was resolved,” Bonnici said.

The minister’s comments were supported by Frank Fabri, permanent secretary within the education ministry, who insisted that all State schools are ready to welcome students.

“All State schools are ready. This is not something we are saying ourselves, but is being said by risk assessors who are independent from the ministry,” he said.

However, Opposition education spokesperson Clyde Puli disagreed, insisting that the opening of State schools was postponed because of the government’s delay in rolling out safety protocols.

“The government’s preparations started late and there are still problems which teachers and LSEs are flagging to us,” Puli said.

The Nationalist MP acknowledged that a lot of hard work is being done in very challenging circumstances, but reiterated his belief that all of the work began later than it should have.

Bonnici vehemently rejected this accusation. “I can never accept the accusation that we were late or started late, this is completely untrue […] teaching could have started this very week.”
MUT President Marco Bonnici said the adjustment period was necessary because it did not make sense to open schools without having educators prepared for the new system. 

“It is useless to open schools - and boast how well prepared the schools are and that students know where they have to sit - while having educators who are not in sync with this, who do not yet know what they need to do or even what they’ll be teaching,” he said. 

Marco Bonnici explained that one of the most complex aspects of the preparations for the new scholastic year was the tweaking of curriculums, with each year’s curriculum having been amended in light of the new circumstances.

The MUT President said the union had been inundated with questions from teachers about the new curriculums over the past few weeks, noting that in many cases the union had been unable to provide answers since the focus at the time had been on logistical preparations and not on curriculums.

Puli, on his part, argued that the restlessness that had been shown by certain teachers over the past weeks was a result of the government’s tardiness in starting preparations, and its inability to communicate effectively with educators.

“There needed to be better preparation than has happened, it needed to be in time – not late as it started – and there needs to be real and constructive dialogue,” Puli said. 

Owen Bonnici insisted that this dialogue did take place, pointing out that the government spoke to all unions and stakeholders, and even communicated with the WHO before issuing the protocols to ensure that they are adequate and robust.

The minister concluded with an appeal for unity, stating that rather than getting lost in the details and trying to pick holes in the protocols, all stakeholders should get behind teachers and pull together to deliver the best possible education in the circumstances.

More in Xtra