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18 April 2014
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The Lost generation

 - Sunday, 19 February 2012, 00:00 , by Stephen Calleja

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi dedicated part of his morning speech to people in the 40-45 age bracket who, he said, had been forced to give up their education aspirations because they finished their obligatory schooling years at a time when the system was in tatters and options were very limited.

He was referring to people who were in their late teens between 1981 and 1987, a dark period in our recent history, a time when political violence was the order of the day and when mass meetings were regularly held on Sundays because they were the only way through which people resisted the Socialist regime and through which they found comfort in numbers. It was also the only way that messages could get across – there was no Facebook, no mobile phones, no computers and none of the other communication facilities that we take for granted today.

It was the time when the Labour Party was in government without having obtained the majority of seats (now, that was uncertainty, and we had five years and five months of it). It was the time when the government tried to close down Church schools and classes were held in secret in homes scattered all over Malta. It was a time when students in a Church school uniform were pelted with stones when on a bus going to or from school. It was the time when teachers went on a nine-week strike and received transfers when the impasse was resolved. It was the time when Socialist thugs ruled at the Msida Sixth Form College. It was the time when entrance to University was limited to a few because of the numerus clausus idea. It was the time when students attending government schools were given a discriminatory extra 20 points to give them an advantage over students in Church and private schools in the application form to enter University. It was the time when University courses – the few that existed – were not even run every year.

I form part of that bracket mentioned by the Prime Minister last Sunday, and I like to call it the lost generation. We can never retrieve the years we lost because of the wrong decisions that the Labour Party took in the education sector. Those who, like me, missed out on pursuing their education dreams because of the wrong policies were never given a second chance.

Nobody ever thought of offering us some kind of incentive, financial or otherwise, to make up for the way we were treated in those years. I’m not saying this for me, because I lost my urge to study years ago and have no intention (and no time) to go back to a lecture room. But I know others of my age who would willingly take up courses or pursue a degree, and who find it so hard because they have a family and other financial commitments. I wonder if some EU funds could be diverted to this end.

The Labour Party’s credentials in the education sector are exceptionally poor. And their pitiable track record continued when they returned to government in 1996 and waged a war against University stipends, converting them into loans.

Then, just before the 2008 election, they came up with the idea of a transition class between primary and secondary schooling, aptly dubbed as the repeater class by the Nationalist Party, by which they wanted to prolong obligatory schooling by one year. It was a ridiculous suggestion.

Now they want to play games with the education system again. They agree with a bill on education that is being discussed by Parliament, but they want to vote against it because it is a money bill and, with Nationalist MP Franco Debono threatening to vote against the government, the Labour Party sees it as yet another chance to force an early election.

It is shameful that the Labour Party is resorting to such measures, and it shows that – for them – power comes before the national interest and the interests of the younger generation that is still at school. My children are now more or less the same age I was between 1981 and 1987, and the Labour Party wants to play with their future, after having played with mine.

Education is not a game, but the Labour Party thinks it is. It is using it as a way of trying to achieve its dream of returning to government. Once again, it is ignoring how its position could negatively affect the lives of young people – if the bill is not made law, the improvements intended cannot be implemented.

(And here I must also mention the Ghaxaq village lawyer again to point out how his selfishness – his outburst against the Prime Minister and the government came after he was not made a minister in the Cabinet reshuffle – is a risk to future generations. But he is not seeing this apparently.)

Once more, the Labour Party has lost another golden opportunity. When the political crisis erupted, it should not have tried to force an early election. If it had taken a more cautious approach and let the government hang itself by its own rope, the PL would have stood to gain more than it has among the floating voters. But it chose to take an aggressive stand and through its actions has exposed itself as being hungry for power.

It got a second chance – the education bill – and is throwing the opportunity to the dogs again. Once it had agreed with the measures proposed, the PL would have looked better – and certainly less greedy – if it had gone along with it and supported the government, instead of seeing it as a way to push for an early election.

In its haste to conquer Castille, Labour has missed two chances to show it has changed for the better.

***

Last Sunday, this side of the world woke up to the terrible news that Whitney Houston, a singer whose outstanding voice and great songs thrilled the world, had been found dead in a hotel room in Los Angeles. Her remarkable career was cut short because of her turbulent personal life – but her songs will live forever.

The second shock I received last Sunday was when I learned of the death of Anjelica Cauchi, my English teacher in my last years at St Aloysius College. She was a wonderful tutor, one who nurtured my love of reading and writing and a person who was a great inspiration to her students.

I still treasure the short note she wrote in my autograph book – she was the only teacher I asked to sign it – in the last days of my Fifth Form.

She wrote: “Never let others make you what you are not”. She would have been pleased to know that I took her advice.

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