Last Updated on Thursday, 2 June, 2022 at 9:23 am by Andre Camilleri
Given that 2021 did not turn out to be as good as was being predicted, the English Language Teaching (ELT) industry is being cautious for this summer.
The CEO of the Federation of English Language Teaching Organisation Malta (Feltom), Caroline Tissot, said that although there are a number of factors to consider, English language schools in Malta this year are expecting a positive summer season as “the number of attending students are looking healthy”.
She added that despite the improvement in the situation, one cannot go as far as to say that things have returned to normality. The industry has suffered tremendously in the last two years as numbers dropped as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
English language schools were among those hit the hardest as schools were firmly shut, with no indication as to when they would begin operating again. Following the introduction of the vaccine against the virus, schools were allowed to open, but they had to operate for fully-vaccinated adult students. This situation had changed once again in July 2021 when Malta closed ELT schools again following a rapid growth in Covid-19 cases.
The Malta Business Weekly reached out to Feltom to find out the kind of summer it is expecting to have this year. Tissot said that “at face value, when considering the lifting of restrictions internationally, we can safely say that the situation has improved, but I would not go as far as saying that things have returned to normality”.
The legacy of the two pandemic years, which wreaked havoc on various aspects that impacted the industry, are still being felt. For example, the flight routes are not all open, cost of flights have increased dramatically, inflation has risen sharply and equally important is the lack of human resources. As has been widely reported in recent days, the delay in the issuing of visas is hampering the industry too, Tissot said.
She added that “notwithstanding these factors, the numbers are looking healthy and we are looking forward to a positive summer”.
Due to the English language school closures, during 2020 and 2021, the institutions experienced financial loss. Asked on whether Feltom believes that this summer will make up for it, Tissot explained that although that would be the outcome everyone wishes for, it will be possible to have a better understanding of the financial situation later in the year.
“This year a new trend is being observed where schools are receiving last minute bookings brought about by the uncertainties which are also a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine,” she said.
In 2021, the number of students attending English language courses stood at 27,853 which is equivalent to an increase of 68.9% over 2020. Asked on the number of attending students this year, although an exact figure was not provided, Tissot said that the numbers are looking as healthy as pre-Covid.
While bookings are being received and classes are filling up, the prospective students’ cautious approach to bookings makes it hard to predict an actual figure, she said.
Meanwhile, with regard to Covid-19 related restrictions, Feltom will not impose any measures on its members and schools.
“However, everyone is well aware of the recommended guidelines issued by the Public Health authorities and each school may choose which measures it wishes to implement, if any at all,” Tissot said.
ELT students will not be asked to present a vaccine certificate, as Feltom argued that the virus does not discriminate between tourists, locals and ELT students who are themselves part students and part tourists.
Like every other summer, the majority of students usually hail from European countries and this year will be no exception.
In addition, “Malta attracts students of all ages as we see professionals ranging from MEPs to business owners, to medical professionals and engineers, to mention but a few. Our rich culture, history and food are unique aspects that attract them to Malta. We also have the young learners who travel to Malta to improve their English language skills, but who also enjoy the beaches and the entertainment during their breaks. Some also choose to travel as a family”.
With regard to the duration of how long the students are expected to stay in Malta, Tissot said that this very much depends on the time of year, but during summer, an average stay would be approximately three weeks.
The industry has also had to deal with host family issues. A number of reports were made by families who have said that they will not be taking in any students this summer as they fear that the students will have Covid-19.
Asked on Feltom’s confirmation on this matter and on whether they are experiencing any difficulties, Tissot said that over the last couple of years a reduction in the number of available families was experienced. This is also the case with the ELT industry on a global level.
“There are various reasons why people have chosen not to renew their licences and some may have expressed their concerns. One must also remember that the Covid-19 virus has not been eradicated locally and it is present among us,” Tissot said.
She added that another point to consider is that many ELT students are also vaccinated.
Tissot encouraged families to reconsider hosting students as it offers many benefits, including establishing friendships and learning about new cultures, while earning additional income.