UPE reacts to the statement issued by the MEDE regarding the opening of schools

The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers, would like to clarify some points with regards to the statement issued by the Minister of Education and Employment, the Hon. Dr Bonnici.

The UPE was not consulted on the proposed scenarios. An initial meeting was held after the closure of schools which gave the general impression that the Ministry was trying to find a solution to the issues related to the academic  year 2020/2021.  The scenarios mentioned at that time were about generic discussions which had taken place with Unions and Cooperatives. Since this initial meeting, the Ministry has been silent and has not engaged in any further discussion with the UPE, even when certain details were specifically requested.

The 3 scenarios mentioned by the Minister are the following;

  1. Schools will open as usual and all children attend school.

This scenario is only possible if the number of COVID-19 active cases goes down significantly and spreading in the community is contained. Last March, when the Superintendent for Public Health gave her blessing to close schools down, numbers were much lower. Therefore the Union will, yet again, use the numbers which existed in March as a benchmark, given that they had been previously acknowledged, by the Superintendent for Public Health, as being of sufficiently high risk to require school closure.

If the Ministry insists on opening schools with such numbers, the Union will take all necessary measures to safeguard its members.

  1. Schools open with alternating groups of children. 

This scenario is highly unrealistic since it would only cause chaos amongst parents who will have to find ways to ensure that their children are adequately supervised when they do not have to attend school.

Attending twice a week would surely not cover the educational content required  to progress to the following year, and is bound to create an educational blackout which would have severe repercussions on the workforce of tomorrow.

The only way in which this scenario could be viable would be if educators were told to work longer hours at school, and splitting the school day into two segments. This proposal or intention will be strongly objected to by the UPE as it would go against the collective agreement.

  1. Schools do not open and all teaching is done online.

This would be, more or less, the same scenario that was in place after the closure of schools back in March, but the Ministry is altering its views on online work so as to ensure that teachers do live sessions online. This goes completely against the recommendations of the union. Teachers are to use alternative means of online teaching but should avoid live sessions due to the risk of malicious use of online footage.

Online work is exponentially increasing the educator’s workload and we have been seeing that the traditional working hours for teacher have been disregarded, since educators have been put in a position  where they feel they do not have the right to disconnect after working hours.

It is inconceivable to think that the Ministry has not wanted to even acknowledge the Union’s feedback at any point in time, considering that it is ultimately the union which is in close contact with its members on a daily basis. It is even more upsetting to see statements being published on online media portals stating that the Minister has consulted with all stakeholders. If this were the case the UPE would not have had any of the objections it is raising, but the Ministry has not consulted with the UPE, which is a major stakeholder in the Educational Sector.