The Labour Party has the temerity to speak of being a guarantee for young people in terms of education, training and employment, when its track record in this sector is abysmal.
That poster they have erected on the side of many of our roads and the statements being made by Labour leader Joseph Muscat are a slap in the face for those thousands of people who had the misfortune of living their younger years under a Labour administration in the 1980s, and whose future was thrown down the drain because of all the wrong policies and unnecessary battles the Labour Party waged in the sector.
Those thousands have grown up to become parents of young people who are now on the verge of reaching tertiary education, and many are still seething about not having been given the chance to further their studies 30 years ago, especially when they see the kind of opportunities that exist today and compare them with what was available to them.
Now, they do not want their children to suffer the same fate.
Many bad memories come to mind when I see the words “education, training and employment” next to “Labour Party”. They just don’t go together.
Under previous Labour administrations, education meant restricting entrance to university to a few hundreds, the closing down of the MCAST, the bad name given to trade schools, which were for students who were academically weak, the (unsuccessful) attempt to have Church schools closed down, the nine-week strike ordered by the Malta Union of Teachers, the gradual deterioration of the state primary and secondary school sector and the conversion of university stipends into loans.
This is not to mention the talk of creating a socialist generation in the 1980s and the idea of introducing a repeater class in-between kindergarten and primary school that was floated before the 2008 election.
Also under previous Labour administrations, employment meant the creation of a number of parastatal corporations where people were given a job with poor conditions of work just to get them off the unemployment register. It also meant giving jobs to 8,000 people in the public service on the eve of the 1987 election simply as a favour. Such was the difficulty in finding employment in those days that there was one occasion when a Labour exponent organised a lottery for which the first prize was a job with the government.
But it is not only the past that worries me when I hear Joseph Muscat and Labour talk about education and employment. It is their concept which is fundamentally wrong; it is their vision that gives me the creeps.
Because when they say they want to find jobs for 16-year-olds, they are dealing a great blow to the efforts and sacrifices being made by many parents who want to encourage their children to pursue their education long beyond the obligatory school age. Labour is giving students the wrong ideas of what education should be about. They are throwing the lifelong learning notion out the window.
Labour wants students out of school at 16. I just wonder what kind of jobs they have in mind. The irony is that the Labour Party then blames the government because Malta has not yet reached its goals in terms of the number of students who continue their studies beyond 16 – when this number is growing every year, mostly thanks to the opportunities that are being created by this government. The Labour Party attacks the government on this, but then it wants youngsters to find a job at 16.
Why? Will the closing down of MCAST be one of the proposals that Labour is keeping close to its chest until the eve (and perhaps after) the election? Is university entrance going to be restricted once again? Is this why Labour is so anxious that jobs are guaranteed – to use their own word – for 16-year-olds?
And what kind of jobs does Labour have in mind? Parastatal bodies such as baћћar u sewwi, (sail and repair), izra’ u rabbi (sowing and breeding), the Korp tal-Pijunieri (the Pioneer Corps) and the dejma? Is this the future Labour would like to offer our young people?
When Labour speaks of a “guarantee”, it is these kinds of jobs that come to mind – because Labour cannot “guarantee” jobs in the private sector simply because the private sector is owned by others. It can only “guarantee” jobs with the government. So are we talking about going back to the times, under Labour, when the private sector invested little or nothing and the only jobs created were those invented by the government within the government service? Is Labour already seeing a situation where, under its administration, there will be a dearth of jobs in the private sector?
Labour cannot be believed when it speaks about education, because its track record in the sector means it cannot be trusted. In football terminology, when it comes to education and employment, the Labour Party is in the third division. By contrast, the Nationalist Party is top of the premier league in these sectors, particularly in the way it has developed its policies to link education with the needs of the local economy. Successive PN governments may be accused of many shortcomings and wrong decisions, but when it comes to education and employment there is very little, if anything, to criticise.
Government schools have come a long way in the past two decades, and they can now compete well with Church and private schools. In some instances, government schools are even better. The government is investing heavily in all levels of our education sector, from the early years right up to the tertiary sector.
Just look at how the University has expanded in recent times, and how the reopened MCAST has grown from accommodating 1,000 students 10 years ago to 6,000 full-time and 4,000 part-time students this year. Only last Thursday, the foundation stone for the new MCAST complex was laid by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi who, two days earlier, had also announced that the Institute of Tourism Studies will also have its new premises shortly.
When it comes to employment, Malta continues to have a low rate of joblessness and this at a time when economies around us are collapsing. This is only thanks to the policies that have been implemented and the cautious but fruitful approach that the government took at the height of the economic crisis.
While the Labour Party, with its bad record in employment and education when it was in government, speaks of guarantees that appear good on paper but remain unexplained in substance, the Nationalist administration has given and is giving tangible proof that it really believes that education and employment are intrinsically linked with each other – and both are success stories of which we should all be proud.