- Marco Bonnici, President Malta Union of Teachers
- Glorianne Borg Axisa, President of Maltese Association of Parents of State School Students.
- Stephania Dimech Sant, CEO Richmond Foundation
- Pauline Miceli, Comissioner for Children
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges for families across Malta, as a result of school closures, social distancing, and teleworking.
One notes that whilst some employees had the opportunity to work remotely, others, such as front liners, healthcare workers, and shop assistants could not take advantage of such an opportunity. These may have experienced isolation from their family members due to the fear of infection. This made an already challenging situation far more difficult. Employers should aim to accommodate their employees, however, not be to the detriment of the enterprise itself. One of the government measures implemented due to COVID-19 was the closure of schools. This impacted greatly the effectiveness of teleworking, as parents had to juggle between their role as parents and their role as employees, putting a strain on one’s mental health and family relationships.
As stated by Ms. Dimech Sant, everything must start from having a sound mental health status. A survey conducted by the Richmond Foundation reported that 8% of the respondents believed that their biggest challenge during these unprecedented times, was that of finding a balance between teleworking and schooling children. This challenge poses a greater burden on parents who have dependent children, especially those having jobs that are timebound. Ms. Dimech Sant conveyed that this challenge ultimately affected everyone’s mental health. To mitigate this problem, it is recommended that employers focus on the care of their employees. This would benefit both the employee and the employer, as it would have a ripple effect on the business in general.
Ms. Miceli expressed that, although the pandemic spared children from health issues, their social well-being was affected negatively. In addition to this, children who normally made use of LSEs were at a disadvantage, as they could not be given the full and effective support they needed via remote means. She also stated that this pandemic increased stress levels for students and teachers alike, due to isolation. Students experienced undue pressure from their parents. Furthermore, the COVID-19 lockdown worsened obesity issues in children as they were unable to engage in outdoor physical activity.
Dr. Borg Axisa also shed light on the fact that parents were asked to return to work at short notice, which raised the issue of leaving their children unattended at home. Parents were also concerned about their children’s health had they enrolled them at “Skola Sajf” and “Klabb 3-16”.
She stated that past experiences indicated that little consideration was given to the concept of the employee as a parent. Notwithstanding, there cannot be general guidelines, as different jobs have different working conditions and commitments.
Mr. Bonnici conveyed that telework is not part and parcel with the parents’ role of having to provide academic explanations to their children. From an aspect of employment, an assessment must be done to find a beneficial option for both the employers and the employees. This depends on the teleworking possibilities of the firms in question. However, physical meetings are still essential at work. With regards to education, online teaching has increased, ranging from the testing ground prior to Easter, and a launch after the holidays.
He also stated that post-COVID, the government should introduce the electoral promise of parents being able to use their sick leave whenever their children are sick. When asked about what could happen moving forward, Mr. Bonnici described three possible scenarios for the next scholastic year. He claimed that ideally, schools should open normally without any restrictions. The second scenario would be that of reopening schools with restrictions, such as a reduction in the number of students per class. The last scenario could very well see our schools not opening at all. Mr. Bonnici added that even if the last two scenarios were to be imposed both students and teachers would face added difficulties.
COVID-19 taught us to reflect on the way we do things. Borg Axisa stated that the best way forward is to see the individual within the context of whether he/she is a parent and/or employee, son/daughter of a vulnerable person etc. Furthermore, Mr. Bonnici stated that a balance between the office and remote working would be ideal. If these changes were to be implemented, they would eventually have a positive effect on society at large.