English-language schools brace for another crippling summer

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English-language schools face another crippling summer as strict COVID-related travel restrictions still apply to Brazilian students who would normally make up the majority of adult students in Malta.

A major trader in the sector, Andrew Mangion, said it would soon be too late to save the market unless Brazil was removed from Malta’s dark red list.

This means that prospective Brazilian students must either enter quarantine for 10 days upon arrival or travel to another country on the green list and stay there for two weeks before traveling to Malta.

Brazilian students are mostly adults with high purchasing power and whose average stay on the island is more than a month

No English language student would be willing to encounter so many problems when they could easily travel to another country without such restrictions, said Mangion, executive chairman and CEO of EC Malta, a leading English language school operating in many countries.

The majority of adult language students in Brazil

In 2019, the absolute majority of adult students in TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) schools in Malta came from Brazil, Mangion said.

Caroline Tissot, CEO of FELTOM (Federation of English Language Teaching Organizations), said the Brazilian market was very important.

Two years ago it was Malta’s third largest market for its language schools. Italy held a 12% share, Colombia 9.1% and Brazil followed just behind with 9%.

However, Brazilian students are mostly adults with high purchasing power whose average stay on the island is more than one month. The Brazilian market is what keeps schools afloat in the intervening months, Tissot pointed out.

Malta’s main competitors in the Brazilian market are Ireland and Canada, both of which have opened their borders and are accepting bookings from Brazilian students, she added.

Tissot also said that once an agent for this market is lost, it is very difficult to get them back.

Language schools in play

Maltese English-language schools have been virtually decimated by the pandemic.

In May 2020, weeks after the first recorded case in Malta, the sector had already been hit hard by cancellations, which left many schools in dire financial straits.

After reopening last July following a second lockdown, overseas students were found to be partly behind a spike in COVID cases and schools were ordered to close again a few weeks later.

The move was described by FELTOM at the time as “unwarranted and disproportionate”.

Mangion said now, after a long period of uncertainty in the sector, English-language schools were once again on hold.

Industry operators could not understand the reasoning behind restrictions on Brazilian students, he said.

The reason given was that “the level of testing in Brazil is still too low”. But Malta was receiving travelers from the UK and Scandinavian countries even though those countries had scrapped all testing altogether, he argued.

FELTOM in talks with the government

The federation is in talks with the public health department as well as the prime minister’s office to try to resolve the situation, but no agreement has been reached.

Mangion said schools welcomed the authorities’ announcement a few weeks ago that all restrictions would be lifted.

But they were still waiting for the lifting of the measures which are currently putting off a large part of their market.

English-language schools were not asking for grants, only the reopening of borders so that TEFL schools could operate smoothly again, he said.

Questions sent to public health authorities about when Brazil and other countries would be removed from the dark red travel list remain unanswered.

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