Language schools have seen a surge in bookings – but now face a teacher shortage. Photo: Jonathan Borg
Hopes of a post-COVID-19 return to normality this summer for the hard-hit language schools sector are at risk due to teacher shortages, industry figures have warned.
The successful vaccination programme and low virus rates have led to a surge in inquiries to the schools with bookings of more than 11,000 until September, increasing daily since the sector fully reopened on June 1.
Caroline Tissot from FELTOM, the Federation of English Language Teaching Organisations in Malta, said signs were “encouraging” and that schools were reporting increased interest and last-minute bookings from countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Japan, Germany and the Baltic region.
Tissot noted that the successful way with which Malta tackled the pandemic got much attention from the international media and the island is being chosen over countries like Spain and Germany.
But optimism spurred by the global demand has been tempered by concerns over whether there will be enough teachers to cater for pupils.
“We need double the number of teachers for the same number of students because of social distancing in classrooms,” a spokesman for one school said on condition of anonymity.
“Teacher availability is a major issue for us,” he said.
“Many teachers have left the industry for good over the last months, so we desperately need teachers. If local teachers are not forthcoming, Malta should perhaps consider inviting teachers from the UK to fill in this gap,” he added.
The spokesman also suggested that the ELT council should hold intensive immediate promotional campaigns to attract teachers of English in mainstream education, past ELT teachers and others who hold a minimum ‘A’ level in English so they can attend crash courses to have them available for when the teaching season peaks.
To protect pupils, and the wider community, schools have increased disinfecting and cleaning procedures, carry out daily temperature testing of students and staff, enforce hand sanitisation and continue to observe social distancing rules in classrooms.
Students and staff must also continue wearing masks.
On bookings, he said, the response was encouraging.
“We are nowhere close to 2019 levels but the short-term outlook for July and August looks very good and we are seeing a lot of interest driven by several last-minute bookings with most interest coming from Italy, Poland, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic.”
Another major issue mentioned by a representative from another school was the lack of flight connections. For example, an airline recently cancelled a Milan return flight, causing some issues.
English language schools experienced cancellations at the beginning of the pandemic in March last year, with schools reporting 20,000 cancelled bookings.
At the time, the industry had said the financial impact of the cancellations was expected to lead to an estimated loss in contribution of €8.8 million and an estimated financial loss to the economy of €23.7 million.
In an effort to boost the industry, the government will give students travelling to Malta to learn English this summer up to €300 in vouchers to spend anywhere on the island.
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