The English-language school sector brought “on its knees”

The news that English Language Teaching Schools (ELTs) will have to remain closed has brought the sector “to its knees”, said the Federation of English Language Teaching Organizations in Malta (FELTOM).

As Maltese schools will begin to reopen from todayEnglish-language schools have been ordered to remain closed for the foreseeable future and continue online education. Today, ohn April 12, nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools will open. Two days later – Wednesday, April 14 – middle schools will open, and on Friday, April 16, secondary schools (Form 3 through Form 5) will open.

The Malta Independent spoke to Caroline Tissot, CEO designate of FELTOM, to understand how English language schools in Malta have been affected by the news that they are set to remain closed and how the significant drop in student numbers since the start of the pandemic has affected Malta’s teaching staff, economy and tourism industry.

FELTOM had recently expressed its hopes in a statement that, in the meantime, the industry will receive clear direction from the government and a vision of the way forward for ELT schools to implement meaningful survival plans. “The English as a Foreign Language industry is one of the hardest hit industries in our country, which has suffered terrible financial losses and support for schools is imperative if this industry is to survive,” FELTOM said.

Asked about the current state of ELT schools in Malta, Tissot said last Wednesday’s “unexpected” announcement of the English language school closing had “brought the industry to its knees”.

While English language schools have benefited from the Covid salary supplement, allowing them to cover rent, water and electricity costs, schools are in a state of financial crisis.

“We have to keep in mind that schools are businesses that need financial support,” she said. “The day-to-day running costs of schools are piling up; this, coupled with a “no end in sight” scenario as to when schools will reopen, may even lead to school closures.”

Last Thursday, the National Statistics Office (NSO) reported that 2020 saw an 80.3% drop in the number of overseas students coming to Malta compared to the previous year. 16,491 students attended approved local ELT schools in 2020, while in 2019, 83,610 students attended ELT schools.

Asked how this drop in student numbers has affected both teaching and non-teaching staff at ELT schools, Tissot said ELT schools are trying as hard as possible to retain as many staff as possible. possible.

“The government salary supplement has, in part, allowed this to happen,” she said.

The pay supplement, however, has not eradicated the unpredictability that plagues ELT school employees.

“The extension of ELT school closures has instilled a sense of insecurity among many of our employees, leading to a very real possibility of staff leaving the industry in search of a more work environment. steady,” Tissot said.

The drop in student numbers has not only affected staff, but has also shaken the Maltese economy.

“According to the annual Deloitte report,” Tissot noted, “statistics for 2019 show that the ELT industry contributed 8.6% of total tourist overnight stays with total expenditure amounting to around 200 million euros. . Of course, the reduction in the number of students has had a negative impact on this figure and we hope that with the imminent return to face-to-face teaching, the industry will once again be able to contribute positively more to Malta’s economy”.

Tissot said it’s a mix of this “financial burden” coupled with the uncertainty facing employees that has posed the greatest challenge to ELT schools at the moment.

Asking in more detail about the financial situation of English-language schools, Tissot said the schools were still struggling to cope despite still teaching students.

“Expenses are still incurred even though classes are held online,” she said.

And while students can happily continue to learn English online, the physical absence of students in Malta has called ELT programs into question.

“The basis of the ELT industry is that students have the opportunity to learn by fully immersing themselves in their environment,” Tissot said. “However, the indefinite closure of schools has led to an increase in cancellations and postponements. Bookings have drastically decreased resulting in a huge loss of revenue.”

What can we expect for the future of ELT schools?

Although the current situation is far from ideal, Tissot hopes the summer will be brighter for ELT schools. This is largely due to the Tourism recovery planwhich will help local tourism industries recover from the financial hit of the pandemic.

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has announced that no less than 20 million euros will be invested in the plan and distributed across a number of programs and incentives that will help, as Bartolo put it, “the sector the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Bartolo announced that a number of programs will be launched in the coming weeks to target different aspects of local tourism – one of which will be specifically dedicated to ELT schools.

Asked about FELTOM’s forecast for the summer, Tissot said that “the tourism recovery plan for summer 2021 recently presented by the Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration with the MTA, has seen an increase in the number of interested parties “.

She added that Malta being ‘one of the best ELT destinations’ will certainly attract interested students to book educational trips this summer.

Malta also has the advantage of being accessible to students and plans to open its doors to students by the start of next June.

“With other top ELT destinations like Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand being off limits to students, Malta has an opportunity to take advantage of them, once authorities give the go-ahead. green to our schools to open their doors,” she said.

Tissot also hinted at the possibility that FELTOM could work with the MTA to further promote Malta to interested students and “co-market our islands through funds allocated for the reopening of tourism in Malta over the coming months”.