The arts and sports education industry has reassured parents and children that strict health protocols are in place, despite public health advice for schoolchildren to stop extracurricular activities in the wake of a surge in COVID-19 cases.
They were reacting to a warning from the head of the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Unit, Tanya Melillo, for parents, students and teachers to stop extracurricular socialising to keep schools safe, and stressed on the importance of children’s creative education – now more than ever.
As pupils prepare to return to their desks next month, Melillo said they could not expect to do everything they used to, including attending drama, dance and catechism programmes, if schools were to remain open and parents continue working, especially in view of the high community spread.
But her advice sparked reactions from an industry that feels it has been ignored throughout the crisis, with the head of the arts education subcommittee within Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association saying: “We are really upset about this, seeing that the protocols we worked on had been approved by the health authorities.”
Performing arts schools have worked “really well” over the summer with no infections, said Lorraine Aquilina, who is also director of projects at the School of Performing Arts.
“We have been striving to ensure all protocols are in place and some schools have already started putting them into practice.
“Our schools are safe environments, where children and young adults can nurture their skills,” Aquilina said, insisting it was important that today’s youths did not grow up without the ability to communicate physically, especially in a world where so much is being done online.
As children return to formal schooling, it is our duty to stress the importance of creative education
International Helen O’Grady Academy director, Alan Montanaro, joined the chorus, reassuring parents and students that his development-through-drama programme is strictly adhering to all measures as recommended by the health authorities to keep it as safe as possible.
“Any cutting of corners and abuse of protocols would be crazy, counterproductive and risky,” he said.
Montanaro said classes last one hour and are, by their very nature, cluster-based, preceded by a thorough sanitisation process too.
“As children get ready to return to formal schooling, we feel it is our duty to stress the importance of creative education for their sound development and mental well-being.”
Luxol Sports Club has been continuously operational throughout the summer, hosting 9,250 students, said its technical director Pippo Psaila, pointing out that, to date, the club has not had one case of COVID-19.
“That does not mean we can slacken in our stringent measures. If anything, we need to be more vigilant,” he said, adding that its protocols go beyond the mandatory guidelines.
“The new reality does not mean our children should be deprived of essential pedagogical tools such as sport. The key here is moderation and choices, not outright exclusions,” Psaila said, adding that it needs to be managed sensibly.
COVID-19 protocols have also been launched to protect staff, students and guardians at the specialised schools for the visual and performing arts within the Mikiel Anton Vassalli College, which cannot be put in the same basket as compulsory schools, according to the Head of College Network Victor Galea.
In a recent statement, he had said COVID-19 safety measures were much easier to maintain in the studios and workshops of these specialised schools, where the duration of lessons is much shorter, with no breaks and canteens.
“Visual and performing arts education gives students that fulfilment needed in life to express emotions and think through creative means, be it music, art, drama, or dance – now more than ever before.”
Consultant paediatrician Victor Grech, who has published extensively on the coronavirus, said that although any activity where persons meet increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission, “we simply cannot remain in lockdown forever”.
Speaking about “interacting sensibly”, Grech said “life must go on, with restrictions and with the sheltering of our vulnerable”.
Grech acknowledged it was almost inevitable that outbreaks would occur in schools, but he maintained the mitigation measures in place should be able to protect teachers and limit spread to single classrooms, or just parts of classrooms, without having entire schools shut down.
Referring to what has been termed a coronavirus “budget”, he said it is about allowing activities to happen as long as R remains below one – thereby avoiding spread, knowing some cases will occur but in a contained fashion.
“It is a balance of risks, with strong mitigation measures,” Grech said.
If the R value remains below one, entertainment can be allowed, with the same restrictions.