In May 2021 Malta introduced a scheme encouraging international students to visit Malta and learn English at their language schools as part of their campaign to encourage summer tourism on the island (the island of Malta has two official languages: Maltese, which is descended from Sicilian Arabic and is also the national language, and English).
The Maltese response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been admirable, and they remain the country with the highest vaccination rate in the EU. Being an island, they have been able to regulate those entering their country and hence contain the spread of COVID-19.
On July 9th the Maltese government announced that on the following Wednesday two new regulations would go into effect:
- All people entering Malta would be required to have the COVID-19 vaccine
- All English Language Schools in Malta would be closed
Requiring the vaccine for those entering the country seems logical and in line with their regulations thus far. However, as described in articles by Times of Malta and The PIE News, the closing of English language schools has been met with quite a bit of backlash and surprise.
In early summer Malta had a few outbreaks of COVID-19 that they attributed to the students who traveled there in order to take part in their English learning program. This hasn’t been formally proven, but the government seems to want to eliminate any chances of outbreaks altogether, and so the schools are being targeted. This has been an especially drastic turn of events as previously Malta had invested significant funding into the scheme to encourage students to study in their country.
The Federation of English Language Teaching Organizations Malta (FELTOM) stated that schools were “unprepared and shocked by the government’s unexpected and rigid decision”. Especially since this decision will cost schools upwards of €40 million as programs and students were already booked for the upcoming year. The monetary cost of this shut-down will not only be in the educational sector, as FELTOM states that “inevitably, this will have significant economic consequences to the entire tourism industry, its employees and its stakeholders”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the education system and forced all institutions to invest more in virtual learning. Countless study-abroad and immersion programs have been shut down, and this Maltese example demonstrates how quickly governments and educational institutions have had to switch gears. As the world opens back up on varying timelines, it is important to acknowledge how language learning has been stunted and consider the ways it may evolve in the wake of this global crisis.