Movement in Malta – a PE Teacher’s Perspective

It’s a global pandemic. Here in the UK, we are well aware of the decisions faced by school leaders and the impact of lockdown on children and families. But, what about in other parts of the world? Online conversations – most recently via the World Education Summit – have connected us with educators and innovators across the world. We are honoured to have Ramon Formosa share the experiences of teachers – and students – in relation to Physical Activity, PE and PAL in Malta.

ISPAH Malta Scorecard

According to a study conducted amongst Maltese children of school age (Fenech et al, 2020), child obesity is a major problem with 39.7% of primary school children found as overweight or obese. The obesity problems are in part related to the fact that due to the pressures deriving from schoolwork, a large proportion of Maltese children do not manage to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of Moderate to Vigorous-intensity Physical Activity needed to lead a healthy life (World Health Organisation, WHO). Official Physical Education lesson entitlement in Maltese Primary schools is 5% of the whole school week as per the National Curriculum Framework (2012). Considering that school children do not have PE lessons everyday with such a low curriculum time entitlement, the minutes of Physical Activity are accumulated either through play during school breaks or by attending after-school sports clubs. Unfortunately, not all students attend such clubs. 

Malta Spring 2020

The COVID-19 situation has not helped as it has exacerbated the situation during the past year, leaving many school children inactive and creating a roller coaster effect with students being on and off activity levels. At the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, schools and sports clubs in Malta had been physically closed between March and June. This abrupt closure left PE teachers and sports coaches scrambling to find a way to keep students active. Sport Malta – the board within the Secretariat for Recreation, Sports and voluntary organisations – had taken the responsibility to provide a service to engage students in physical exercises/activities while at home. This was implemented through the launching of the “Be Active at Home” campaign through a series of videos, (Sports Malta, April 2020).  PE teachers also tried to record mini lessons to try and reach their students, but quite a few students disappeared from the radar during the period of lock down as stated by the then Education Minister, Hon. Dr. Owen Bonnici (Malta Today, May 2020).  This continued to aggravate the situation since students were locked at home, lacking space where they could be physically active, while some of them were not traceable by their schools. 

Malta Summer 2020

In Malta, the COVID situation improved during summer 2020 – with cases of Covid-19 contained. Most students could finally be active:

  • participating in summer camps organised by various clubs, federations and summer schools or
  • informally going to the beach with their family

As school re-opening approached in September 2020, there was controversy between teaching unions and the Government as to whether reopening was safe or not. Unlike the government that believed schools were safe to open, teachers’ unions were stating that it was not safe to open since cases were on the rise and schools should keep providing online teaching and learning (Times of Malta, September 2020).   

Schools opened physically two weeks later (in October), but schooling was far from normal. School leaders and teachers were having to face a whole myriad of restrictions stemming from the protocols issued by the National Health Authorities. To keep distances of 1.5m to 2m between students in class, classes had to be divided into smaller bubbles. According to the President of the Malta Union of Teachers, 80 primary schools had a shortage of teachers and the Education Authorities decided to allocate peripatetic teachers to these classes (Malta Today, October 2020).  This meant that primary school students would not be having official PE, Music, Drama and Art lessons for most of the scholastic year 2020-2021. The Dean of the Faculty of Education within the University of Malta, Dr. Colin Calleja expressed his concern, “removing teachers from their regular duties teaching subjects like Music, Physical Education, Art and so on reinforces curricular prejudices that place subjects like these beneath others in an imposed hierarchical structure,” (Malta Today, October 2020). 

Teachers Show the Way

For PE teachers who worked in schools run by the Church or Independent foundations, Physical Education was still on the time-table. However, restrictions imposed made it very difficult to plan schemes of work and lesson plans which would give a holistic physical experience to the students. Students could not have any form of contact. It was preferable that students work individually within a six-metre squared area each and equipment could not be used amongst other restrictions (Sport Malta Sports COVID guidelines, 2020).

Stella Maris, Malta

The direction was to do mostly athletics and fitness. All educational excursions, organised games and activities where school children could be active were all prohibited which made the 60mins of MVPA practically impossible to achieve. Break times were also decreased as classes had to have staggered breaks to avoid mixing of class bubbles. All these restrictions and impositions impacted heavily the students’ acquisition of physical literacy and also health and fitness levels. These restrictions also made it practically impossible for class teachers to promote PAL. These same teachers who usually teach using a cross curricular approach did not take the risk of taking students in the school yard to teach their core subjects through Physical Activity. The social domain in education went missing throughout this scholastic year as students were prohibited from collaborating, playing together, experimenting, or engaging in any collaborative games or movements. 

Bearing in mind all these difficulties, the few PE teachers in Malta continued to do their best to work within these set standards that guided them. They went the extra mile to still create enjoyable, active learning environments whenever possible, trying to find ways and means of respecting such guidelines but still thinking out of the box on how to engage students and keep them active as much as possible. 

Students yearn and crave for PE lessons and to take part in games with their friends. However, owing to an ever increasing number of COVID cases, on March 4th, 2021 all Under-16 contact sports were banned (Times of Malta, March 2021). A week later, schools had to revert to online teaching.  That meant that even all individual sports offered after school hours had to be stopped. These restrictions have increased the negative impact on children’s emotional, mental health and general well-being (Malta Today, March 2021).  These restrictions are in effect until April 11th, 2021 and although authorities have stated that schools will be reopening in a staggered manner after the 12th of April, organised sports and after school activities will be gradually re-instated not before the 26th of April as no definitive plans have been issued yet. 

Moving Forwards

Once Malta manages to move towards some form of normality into a post COVID world, a lot of work needs to be done to re-engage all students with the importance of being active. We need to find ways to put PE teachers and class teachers around a table to plan ways of increasing movement through cross-curricular teaching, where physical activity becomes an integral part of the lesson. Some examples could be teaching Maths through movement, the reinstatement of the ‘Daily Mile’ in Maltese schools and PE teachers all going back to teaching their subjects to all students. Understanding the benefits of outdoor learning (Spiteri, 2020) should also become an integral part of our vision of post-Covid education.

 “Now more than ever, we must place physical education, sport and physical activity at the heart of school life to ensure that all children and young people have access to a high-quality offer that supports their physical health and emotional wellbeing.” 

(AfPE, 2021)

Biography 

Mr. Ramon Formosa has been teaching for the past 19 years in Malta. He has been teaching Physical Education within the Church primary sector for the past three years.  In 2018, Mr. Formosa graduated with a Master of Science in Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy from the University of Birmingham UK. During the past three years he has also collaborated with the Institute of Physical Education and Sport within the University of Malta as a part-time lecturer, dissertations examiner and dissertation tutor. Presently, he is reading for a Postgraduate Certificate in Educational Teacher Mentoring. He is also a qualified athletics coach.  

To contact Ramon, email ramonsprint@gmail.com.

Follow Ramon on Twitter.

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