The Federation of English Language Teaching Organisations Malta said that its member schools were “unprepared and shocked by the government’s unexpected and rigid decision”.
Local media has reported that there are currently over 12,000 students on the island and 28,000 bookings in the pipeline, which could cost local schools up to €40 million.
“This sudden unilateral decision by the government sends out a message that a cluster that did not emerge from any breach of protocols by operators within their schools, can lead to such disproportionate and extreme measures,” FELTOM said.
“This will have significant economic consequences to the entire tourism industry, its employees and its stakeholders”
“Inevitably, this will have significant economic consequences to the entire tourism industry, its employees and its stakeholders.”
In a statement, it added that ELT schools have “invested enormous resources in terms of time, money, manpower and materials so that their schools operate within the parameters of these guidelines”.
“Subsequently, while the schools have impressed on their employees and students the importance of adhering to measures, including mask wearing and social distancing while in public, the reinforcement of such measures by the government has been barely visible, bearing in mind that it is only government that has the authority to enforce such measures.”
Some of those methods have however been criticised; the Union of Professional Educators, which represents ELT staff in Malta, this month claimed that “certain independent schools in Malta have imposed upon their educators to get the Covid-19 vaccine if they wanted to have a job to return to in the next scholastic year”.
“It was also reported that whereas in some schools exemptions were made for educators who could not take the vaccine for health reasons, in other institutions such exemptions were not even being contemplated.”
Malta recently reported the highest number of new infections since March, despite having the highest proportion of its population vaccinated in the EU.
Schools had initially been cautiously optimistic about booking and operations for this summer.
The government had even launched a voucher scheme that would see any student studying for longer than two weeks get a €10 voucher for every night spent in the country, which was expected to generate €7 million for the economy.
A survey conducted in May by FELTOM showed an increase in bookings for English language courses following the reopening of the tourism season. Member schools said they had received 10,711 bookings for Q2 and Q3 of 2021.
“We’ve already scraped the bottom of the barrel in order to secure our ability to operate this year, with nothing more left to scrape,” Rebecca Bonnici, owner and CEO of BELS English Language Schools, told local media, adding that schools didn’t know what to tell students already in Malta.
“This decision will have an unquantifiable effect on Malta’s reputation.
“We got the numbers here because we hung on and worked hard to attract people and because England and Ireland were closed to language learning. This will effectively wipe out the ELT sector in Malta.”
However, medical authorities in the country have back the government’s plans. The Medical Association of Malta accused the Ministry of Tourism of “amateurism” and “lack of foresight” with regards to its push to see tourists and students return to the island.
“MAM had strongly advised the MHRA and the tourism authorities to promote safe tourism with an opening to tourism only to vaccinated individuals who would be required to swab as well, and prohibit those activities which attract unruly tourists unlikely to comply with preventive measures and social distancing,” said a spokesperson.
“This is most unfair to the healthcare workers who once again must make personal sacrifices to treat these patients.”