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School Covid-19 cluster shakes Maltese ELT

A cluster of Covid-19 cases at a language school in Malta has kept the island’s industry firmly in the headlines. The “language school cluster”, as the press named it, followed months of stories of struggling schools and teacher activism, culminating in Malta’s first EFL strike on 5 July.

On 30th July, Malta Today reported that 24 Danish teenagers were placed in quarantine in the EF student residence after their group leader tested positive for Covid-19. One week later, two students and two members of EF staff had also tested positive, and one more followed on 15 August.

Malta’s language schools were the first in the English-speaking world to re-open. Travellers from low-risk countries were allowed back on 1 July, and all travel restrictions were lifted for most countries on 15 July, but enrolments in language schools

have remained low. July student numbers were down to 1800, around 90 per cent lower than the 18,400 arrivals reported for July 2019. August has also seen low numbers, particularly of younger learners, FELTOM’s James Perry told the Times of Malta.

“If something happens that is of great concern to parents, in this case a significant increase in Covid-19 cases, then they’re not going to take the risk and travel,” Perry said.

The news that Covid cases had been found in language students, following a weekend party, first came from teachers’ Union UPE, who called on staff in affected schools to self-isolate. Language school association FELTOM condemned the Union for breaking the story but called for a ban on mass gatherings. FELTOM and the Union have been at loggerheads since the beginning of the pandemic, when UPE began complaining about teachers’ conditions. Tension between staff and management came to a head in early June when staff at one school took strike action.

FELTOM has warned that language schools are struggling to survive and worry that many could

close in October when government financial support comes to an end, especially if travel restrictions on Russians and Brazilians, two of the largest year-round markets, remain in place. Only one Maltese school has so far closed.

Image courtesy of PIXABAY
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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