English-language schools sector brought to its knees

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

As Maltese schools start to reopen from today, English-language schools have been ordered to remain closed for the foreseeable future and to continue online education. Today, ohn April 12, nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools will open their doors. Two days later – Wednesday April 14 – the colleges will open, and on Friday April 16, the high schools (from 3rd to 5th) will open their doors.

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

FELTOM had recently expressed its hopes in a statement that, in the meantime, the industry would receive clear direction from the government and a vision of the way forward for ELT schools to implement meaningful survival plans. “The English 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 for this industry to survive,” said FELTOM.

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

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

“We have to keep in mind that schools are businesses that need financial support,” she said. “Current school expenses are piling up; this, coupled with a “no end in sight” scenario of reopening schools, 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 foreign students coming to Malta compared to the previous year. 16,491 students attended local accredited ELT schools in 2020, while 2019 saw 83,610 students attend ELT schools.

Asked about the impact of this drop in student numbers on teaching and non-teaching staff at ELT schools, Tissot said ELT schools are making every effort to retain as many employees as possible.

“The government’s wage supplement has, in part, made this happen,” she said.

The salary supplement, however, did not eradicate the unpredictability that plagues ELT school employees.

“The extension of ELT school closures has instilled a sense of insecurity in many of our employees, which has resulted in a very real possibility that staff will leave the industry in search of a work environment. more stable, ”Tissot said.

The decline in the number of students has not only affected staff, but has also shaken the Maltese economy.

“According to Deloitte’s annual report,” noted Tissot, “statistics for 2019 show that the ELT industry contributed 8.6% of total tourist overnight stays with total spending 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 again be able to contribute positively to the Maltese economy ” .

Tissot said it’s a mix of this “financial burden” coupled with the uncertainty faced by employees that has posed the biggest challenge for ELT schools right now.

Questioning more about the financial situation of English language schools, Tissot said schools are still struggling to cope despite still teaching students.

“Expenses are always incurred even if the courses are conducted 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 resulted in an increase in cancellations and postponements. Bookings have dropped dramatically, resulting in a huge loss of revenue ”.

What can we expect for the future of ELT schools?

While the current situation is far from ideal, Tissot hopes the summer will be better for ELT schools. This is largely due to the Tourism recovery plan, which will help local tourism industries recover from the financial blow of the pandemic.

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has announced that no less than € 20 million will be invested in the plan and split between a number of programs and incentives that will help, as Bartolo said, “the hardest hit sector 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, “one of the best ELT destinations”, will certainly attract students interested in booking educational trips this summer.

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

“With other ELT destinations such as Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand being inaccessible to students, Malta has the opportunity to capitalize on this, once authorities give the green light to our schools to open their doors, ”she said.

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

Sylvester L. Goldfarb

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