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Malta: VET response to the Covid-19 emergency

On 5 February 2020, the Ministry for Education and Employment (MEDE), in collaboration with the health ministry, issued the first circular informing parents and legal custodians about Covid-19 with information on protection measures that minimise the spread of respiratory infections. A fortnight later, the MEDE issued a second circular.

On 13 March 2020, Malta closed all education institutions – from childcare centres to the University of Malta. Closure was initially until 20 March, followed by extensions, until in April the MEDE, in collaboration with the Ministry for Health, announced that schools and education institutions would remain closed until the end of the current academic year (end of June).

Measures for compulsory education

The MEDE set up a compulsory education working group comprising representatives of the State, the church and independent stakeholders – including the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) – to explore possible methods of online teaching and to study the impact of the present situation on the curriculum. The working group agreed on the following: 

  • educational resources and various lesson activities for each year group and subject to be made available and freely accessible on digital learning platforms. Educators to be provided with training and support on online teaching;
  • educators to be requested to provide students with pedagogical resources directly. An online toolkit featuring videos about the various features of Microsoft Teams, a video about Microsoft Photos, and several tutorials about other educational tools was designed to support teachers;
  • an education helpline to be set up to assist parents and learners in switching to online learning. Free courses to be provided for parents wishing to help their children. Educational programmes to be produced and delivered under the brand teleskolaTV;
  • lunches, use of free computers and internet access to be made available to children from difficult backgrounds.

Measures for further and higher education

  • Arrangements were made for students at the University of Malta and the two main VET institutions in further and higher education – the Malta College for Arts, Science, and Technology (MCAST) and the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) – to benefit from online learning. The main digital tools used for online tuition and communication with students at these VET institutions were Moodle, Microsoft Teams, Schoology, and Classter Management Information System.               
  • Both at MCAST and the ITS, all aspects of practical training, apprenticeship, work-based learning, mobility placements and adult courses had to be suspended to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students, staff and VET partners.

Assessment

Examinations at secondary level (called SEC examinations – vocational subjects are accredited as SEC subjects and at intermediate and advanced levels (called MATSEC examinations), were not held in May as usual but were postponed to September 2020.  For the 16-year-old learners completing compulsory education, the MATSEC Board (Malta’s national assessment agency on academic qualifications from EQF/MQF levels 2, 3 & 4 (certificate and advance levels) carried out a predictive assessment instead of the usual SEC examinations. It is issuing a certificate for students who obtain the required grade so that they can enrol in further academic and vocational education institutions. SEC learners retain the right to sit for the SEC examinations in September 2020.

Reflections

The most positive aspect is that parents, students and educators have had to familiarise themselves with online learning. This makes it possible to combine traditional teaching methods with online methods in the future.

In compulsory education, a survey conducted with educators in May on their teaching experience during the Covid-19 circumstances, showed that a number of learners dropped out of school; parents of students with learning difficulties stated that their children are finding it harder to remain engaged.  

In further and higher education, online learning was much more continuous, engaging and productive.

The future

The MEDE, with the participation of all partners, has published comprehensive plans that will lead to the opening of the 2020/21 academic year. The plan details how learners will progress from year to year, all the way to further and higher academic and vocational institutions.

At the start of the summer months, Covid-19 restrictions started being lifted; learners’ routines gradually resumed and people went back to work, with the country returning to a new normal.  The plan envisages childcare centres to reopen – with strict guidelines – on 5 June 2020 and SkolaSajf 2020 to start on 1 July 2020, 15 days earlier than usual. SkolaSajf 2020 is a nation-wide project organised by the Foundation for Educational Services within MEDE, offering non-formal education during the summer months. Learners between 3 and 16 years may attend a programme based on themed activities and outings.

On 13 May 2020, the education and employment minister announced the setting up of a think tank to compile a report by 14 September 2020, with proposals on the future of education, in view of Covid-19's impact and beyond.

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