School class room

The representative body for English language schools has stated that a letter sent to the Prime Minister by an organisation of international stakeholders in the English Language Teaching (ELT) industry has “vindicated” its position that the sudden shutdown of all schools on 14th July was a “reputational disaster” for the local industry.

The Federation of Language Teaching Organisations (FELTOM) at the time warned of “irreparable” reputational damage, the loss of 2,000 jobs, and what it described as the “decimation of a 58-year-old industry”.

Recently, Paolo Barilari, President of the Federation of Education and Language Consultant Associations (FELCA), sent Prime Minster Robert Abela a strongly worded letter where he called the sudden closure “an utter shock for the whole industry”.

“This not only affected students – lots of minors – already present on the island, but also their parents in total panic; the schools and their representative association FELTOM, which had not been consulted; and finally, we, the agents from all over the world,” he said.

Mr Barilari slammed Prime Minister Abela for the “disastrous image on Malta as a study travel destination that your Government’s decision caused”, calling the damage to the industry “immense”.

“We estimate our total loss to be around €10 million for our members. You will understand that we cannot let this pass without any reaction from our association.

“Therefore, we would like to establish a contact with your Government to envisage a sort of compensation for our members, and to reassure our agents that something similar won’t happen again.”

BusinessNow.mt reached out to FELTOM to find out more about the situation in the ELT sector today, a month after schools reopened to foreign students.

FELTOM said that partner agencies have not stopped promoting Malta, but noted that FELCA’s “strongly worded letter to the PM vindicates FELTOM and the warnings it had been sending to the authorities about the severe impact and repercussions that the closing of schools would have on our industry”.

The industry body said that besides the financial impact, recent events have had an adverse reputational effect both on the industry and on Malta as a country – “something which FELTOM had also warned about”.

“All this has had an effect on bookings of course and there is no way that we will ever manage in 2021 to reach the year end figures we had managed to achieve in past years – a goal that seemed reachable in the beginning of July.

“The road towards recovery will be a long and winding one,” it continued, as it highlighted that some stakeholders “may not survive this last closure”.

The industry’s biggest challenge, FELTOM said, is to ensure the survival of this industry in the next six months.

“This will not be easy. Currently, we are being obliged to operate with classrooms filled only to half their capacity due to safety protocols and social distancing measures imposed by health authorities.

“So our immediate concern is to be able to operate normally to be able to atttract students in profitable quantities. Only then will we be able to start working to ensure a sound recovery of our industry and diminishing as much as possible the huge losses that we have been incurring over the past two years.”

FELTOM added that this challenge is further exacerbated by the “pressing difficulties” of the upcoming winter given that currently, operators in the sector “are unable to sell or get clients from our traditional winter markets due to vaccine certificates not being accepted, as well as due to issues related to visa processing”.

“Our immediate problem, therefore, is to keep things moving throughout the winter season.”

Moving beyond the short term, FELTOM stressed the need for the public understand better the validity of the industry.

“From the manner in which people have been commenting on social media platforms, it remains evident that many are still oblivious, or refuse to understand the very real impact Government’s decisions have had on the livelihood of all those who in some way or another, benefit or depend on this industry. We will have a lot of work to do in this respect as well.”

Asked how it is responding to the challenges identified by schools, FELTOM said that engagement with all industry stakeholders is going to be paramount over the next few months.

“We know, and recent experience has shown us, that better outcomes could have been achieved had a different approach been taken when deciding on a way forward, especially had there been adequate consultation and more realistic time frames agreed upon with all stakeholders involved.”

It also explained that it will be undergoing an exercise to draft a new strategy document for a way forward for the industry, with stronger and closer cooperation with more stakeholders, with this anticipated to be concluded and communicated over the next few weeks.

Finally, in response to a question about the recruitment situation, with a number of teachers retiring or leaving the sector during the course of the drawn-out pandemic, FELTOM acknowledged that all sectors are experiencing difficulties in recruiting the right people.

“We wouldn’t say that the teacher situation is a bad one. Most schools have invested in their academic teams and there is a certain accrued loyalty,” it said.

“Having said that, schools have lost good and valid teachers who understandably were not in a position nor in the right frame of mind to cope with the past stressful months. But if the sector remains operational with no more hiccups along the way, we are confident that schools will once again manage to attract valid teachers to our industry.”

In fact, FELTOM said, plans are already in place so that once the situation is more stabilised, a series of measures will be enacted to start attracting teachers back towards this important industry.

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