For the past months, the Union of Professional Educators – Voice of The Workers has been analysing the current situation related to the safe re-opening of schools.
The Union has taken into consideration the concerns expressed by educators and parents alike.
The UPE is aware that children need to socialise and learn within a normal school environment and also believed that nothing can replace the physical classroom. The mental well-being of students and educators alike is the Union’s main concern, and after having listened to our members’, as well as to many parents’, pleas, the Union strongly recommends that schools are to remain closed to students until further notice.
In the meantime, the Union is recommending that:
- Vulnerable educators should work from home.
- Educators who haven’t got adequate supervision in place for their offspring should also be allowed to work from home.
- Educators who live with vulnerable members of the family should work from home.
- Educators who don’t fall under any of the above-mentioned categories are to report to school for work (the work place must follow health and safety protocols issued by the Public Health Authorities at all times).
For the above to be implemented, the union is suggesting that an adequate online system is provided so as to enhance the e-learning experience. This would require adequate training for all educators which can be given at the beginning of the scholastic year, modern devices are to be provided so as to keep up with the technological requirements of the system in use.
The Union is aware that the Ministry for Education has revised syllabi during the past months and thus encourages that online teaching should be designed in such a way so as to engage students to the full, and maintain the attention span of the students in these difficult times. For this reason, lessons shouldn’t last as long as the average 40-minute lessons we are accustomed to, but should be of not more than 30 minutes. The remainder of the time which is usually allotted to lesson time is to be given as a break for students to take a break from their devices.
The Union is aware that the prolonged absence from school has taken its toll on the relationships between students and educators, because educators haven’t been able to interact with the students on a face-to-face basis. For this reason, the Union suggests that when online live/recorded sessions are to be conducted, if the educator doesn’t consent to appear in person during streaming, cameras can be disabled and only the screen is shared with the students.
Educators have also shown deep concern that students had not been given a hard copy of the lesson notes conducted during the 3rd term. For this reason, the Union is suggesting that an approach similar to the “Pharmacy of your choice” is introduced whereby the “Stationery of your choice” will become the place where hard copies of class notes can be collected from a stationery close to home.
Another option could be that any hard copies are collected from directly from school on a monthly basis.
Homework is to be submitted on time by the students following school policies.
The Union has followed the Ministry’s proposals vis-a-vis the classroom ‘bubble’. This is impossible to implement due to the fact that the mentioned bubble has to start from pick up and finish at drop off. Even then the bubble system cannot be deemed effective once the child goes out in the community.
The UPE can’t accept a situation in which schools are opened and a ping pong mechanism is introduced whereby schools are opened and closed at every positive case registered. This would disrupt the academic flow during the upcoming scholastic year a great deal more than if we maintain a consistent online system until the threat of COVID-19 is averted.
If the Ministry persists in its intention to open schools regardless of the population’s objections, the Union will have no other option but to issue wide-range directives aimed at protecting its members.
The UPE is directly expecting the Minister of Education as well as the Permanent Secretary to take personal responsibility if any educators or students are infected by Covid-19 and end up having permanent or long-term repercussions to their health.
The Union is well aware that these particular times are extraordinary and exceptional, and that we are being coerced into living in a new normality everyone is unfamiliar with. It is thus imperative that our members’ health and safety is safeguarded at all times, and that any measures taken on the educational front considers these aspects as being of paramount importance.
The UPE will be announcing further proposals during the coming days as to cover other areas not mentioned within this article.