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MALTATODAY 25 September 2022

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3 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 25 SEPTEMBER 2022 NEWS Back to school: teachers union hopes for return to normality NICOLE MEILAK THE new school year promises a return to normality for par- ents and children as educators can safely wave goodbye to the COVID era of face-masks. But for teachers union, the school issues present around the time of the pandemic have not yet been abated. As MUT President Marco Bonnici told MaltaToday, the pandemic did not cancel the ongoing prob- lems and challenges in the ed- ucation sector – just placed them on pause. "The union is informed there shall be recommendations to schools by the health author- ities, but we are not foresee- ing any of the rigid measures adopted as per protocols," Bonnici said. Education minister Clifton Camilleri said in an interview on Xtra Sajf that government will not be imposing any COV- ID-19 mitigation measures for the school year. Instead, schools will be able to decide which practices to retain, and which to let go. School operations in Malta were one of the biggest head- aches during the pandemic for teachers and children alike. Educational institutions and childcare centres were among the first to close at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, and their reopenings were a bumpy ride. The education ministry had drawn up contingency plans in the case of schools shutting down or using a hybrid system due to COVID-19 spikes. Last scholastic year, students and educators were told to wear face-masks in class, re- gardless of whether they were vaccinated or not. Social dis- tancing of one-and-a-half me- tres had to be maintained be- tween the students' desks for eigth-year classes and under, while social bubbles had to be kept in place. Marco Bonnici also said Mal- ta's teacher shortage remains a central concern in a num- ber of subjects, including in primary schools. "The union is concerned about the reten- tion of educators, now that the post-pandemic may offer alter- native employment opportuni- ties which maybe be taken by a number of educators." He pointed out that there had been slight job mobili- ty during the pandemic from other sectors towards educa- tion. But hopes of this contin- uing post-pandemic, are small. He said that this mobility will cease and most probably revert back to pre-COVID numbers. New syllabi are also being im- plemented across a number of year groups, and the union has held extensive meetings with the dedicated working group over the summer. "Each sector has its own challenges, and the union is working incessantly to assist educators and schools during this period of the start of the scholastic year." The union is also set to con- clude a number of negotiations in the coming months. These include a collective agreement of lecturing grades at the Uni- versity of Malta Junior College. "This scholastic year shall al- so see new negotiations of the sectoral agreement for all edu- cators in state schools and the collective agreement of all edu- cators in Church schools." KURT SANSONE STUDENTS in state schools will return to their classrooms on Wednesday with Clifton Grima promising a return to nor- mality after two years conditioned by the pandemic. "Schools will be back to normal. Back to before COVID," the education minister said. There will be no COVID-19 mitigation measures in place and it will be up to the individual schools to decide whether cer- tain practices adopted during the pan- demic, such as online parents' meetings, will be kept, he added. Grima was speaking in a pre-record- ed interview on Xtra Sajf, which will be broadcast tomorrow on TVM News Plus at 9pm. Asked whether students would have normal peripatetic lessons such as sci- ence, PE, art, music and PSCD, which were disrupted during the pandemic, Grima reiterated that "everything will be back to before COVID". During the pandemic, peripatetic teach- ers were often asked to take charge of classrooms and fill gaps created as a re- sult of mitigation measures. This led to missed lessons in these subjects. Asked about the fate of the new Msida primary school, which has been plagued by delays and bad workmanship, Grima said it will be ready to receive students for the scholastic year starting in 2023. Construction works were already more than two years behind schedule and sec- tions of the building had to be torn down again this year because of structural de- fects. The minister said the Foundation for Tomorrow Schools, which is responsible for the building of new schools, is seeking legal redress over bad workmanship. "The school will open in the scholastic year starting in 2023," he pledged. Asked about the University of Malta's €1.1 million budget cut this summer, the Education Minister was unfazed by the uproar this created. A cut in the University of Malta's budget should not impact its research capabili- ties, Grima insisted, adding the institu- tion can utilise other available funds. "There is a line item of €1.2 million within the ministry's budget specifically to be used for research by the university but these funds have not been touched yet," Grima said. He added the budget cut had to be seen within the perspective of a record budget allocation for the university this year. The university's budget was reduced as part of government's expenditure review across the public sector, prompted by the need to control spending in view of hefty subsidies on energy and fuels. "The challenge is to maximise resources at their disposal and until now, the availa- ble fund of €1.2 million has remained un- touched by the university," he said. The interview with Grima covered oth- er issues, including the controversial de- cisions taken by the Junior College this year, and efforts being done to reduce the number of children who exit obligatory schooling without skills. The programme will also feature com- ments by Opposition education spokes- person Justin Schembri. Minister: no cuts for university research Education minister Clifton Grima

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