Education: the key area COVID made us forget

Online teaching should be available, but primarily for those children who are vulnerable. The rest should be in school in persona at all costs.

COVID would have been a mere distraction on Friday night, when New Year’s Eve was celebrated as yet another memorable night for partying at home, while restaurants and bars would have been alive with revellers.

As the Christmas holidays approach their end, discussions are underway to see whether schools will open or not. If the government decides to sit back and bend over to the demands of the Malta Union of Teachers not to open schools, it will be revealing its utter hypocrisy and weakness, showing how the powers that be are willing to close an eye to the demands of the hotels and restaurants industry, but not for the education of our young generation.

In the last 18 months, students young and old have had a stunted form of education with half-baked online services that can never be like the real thing. Instead, it seemed the real concern has been to cater for that obsession to have a good time – indeed at everybody else’s expense – rather than looking closer at that great deficit in the education system caused by COVID-19.

At the University of Malta, lecturers who share, one surmises, a different kind of burden to that of primary and secondary school teachers, seized the moment to keep lessons online, starving students from the real experience of campus life.

The younger students who need to learn how to read and write, understand their first steps in writing correct English and Maltese, even requiring the teacher’s physical grasp in having good writing grip, or are 13 and choosing their future subjects or now 15 and sitting for their MATSECs, too have had to suffer long days wearing face masks, or having school suspended due to COVID scares, or face the dread of online lessons, or – take the example of science students – sit for their O-level in science without having even done a laboratory experiment because they had no access to labs.

The MUT argues that their teachers need to be protected from infection. Fair enough, but like all other Maltese, teachers have also been out and about, eating in restaurants, availing themselves of their holidays to travel abroad and meet with friends, and having a good life like the rest of us. Many teachers have risen to the occasion and faced the difficult challenges that came with the COVID pandemic, but all of them know in their heart of hearts that the best form of education is face-to-face. They cannot renege on their commitment now.

If the government wants to be serious about a water-tight situation on COVID it has to come strong on obligatory vaccination for all students. Robert Abela needs to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated in schools... and why not everywhere else?

Online teaching should be available, but primarily for those children who are vulnerable. The rest should be in school in persona at all costs.

When Robert Abela, as prime minister, faces the decision on Monday morning whether to wave the green flag for schools to reopen he must remember that the country’s first interest are children and their families. He needs to prioritise a community that wants to move on, with children at school and parents at work. The teachers must be supported with the best protocols, but they are there to serve as well, like others in other professions and services. They are no different to the rest of us.


The other day, the door bell rang and three bemused men with bags looked at me. They had been dumped at the wrong address and had arrived in Malta after a long flight from Dubai. “Is this St Paul’s?” they asked.

They were two Nepalese and one Sri Lankan man who had been travelling from their home countries, got off the plane in Malta, and found themselves in the centre of a town called Naxxar.

With no mobile phone plan, I offered to phone a taxi. They politely thanked me. “What will you be doing here?” I asked curiously. “We will be working with a cleaning company, sir.”

“Best of luck,” I said. They walked up the alley and waited for a taxi.

Surely most of us are aware of the changing face of the labour force in Malta. We once had a class system that roughly divided us between rich and workers, “is-sinjuri u l-ħaddiema”. Now it is the sinjuri, the rest of us... and the workers.

Down the road from Naxxar, the fields are longer tended to by sun-tanned Maltese farmers but men from Somalia, Mali and Nigeria. At Mater Dei Hospital, patients are washed by Indian and Bangladeshi health workers, some of whom are overqualified for their post. COVID vaccinations have been administered by nursing professionals from the subcontinent.

In restaurants, from the Michelin-rated Bull & Caviar in St George’s Bay to the artisanal Serkin pastizzeria in Rabat, you will receive service from men from Kerala, not Maltese.

This new reality has been part of a radical shift in our culture, one where we take it for granted that labour migration fulfils our demands for service... as long as they do not interfere in our lives and culture, of course! Which means, we are ready to pay them and take their rent, but that is as far as their participation in Maltese life can extend to. And the absolute reality is that when it comes to migrants – asylum seekers particularly – despite our dependence on their contribution to our economy – we stamp our feet at each rescue at sea we are obliged to carry out!

Malta has indeed changed. From the towering cranes that catalyse the disfigurement of the Maltese landscape, to the rising inflation and consumerism that seems to have become part of the DNA of Maltese society. Our avenues of grey asphalt cater for lines of BMWs, four-wheel drives, Porsche Cayennes and Jaguars. Malta has transformed itself and it is not all for the better.

There used to be a time when we embraced change as the key to progress. Perhaps, the monster of inflation and COVID in 2022 will make us realise that it is also time to sober up on our desire to have more.