Evarist Bartolo | Sunday, 28 September 2008

Leaving young people in the dark

It is totally unacceptable that around 700 students who should have already started their courses at the Institute of Information & Communication Technology at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) are still waiting to be told when and where their courses are going to start.
Their courses should have started a fortnight ago. But government has fallen behind in the work that it had to do to choose private training providers for these hundreds of students as MCAST is still not in a position to cater adequately for many of the young people who want to take up IT courses as they have been told over and over again that that is where their future lies.
Young people have been running around various ministries and educational institutions to try and find out what is happening, only to be told that hopefully the courses will start some time in October. Some students have also been told that they should give up on studying and take up a job. It is evident that government’s deeds do not match its hype about preparing new generations of excellent IT people to take up the thousands of future jobs that government has been boasting about whenever it mentions SMART city. It is mainly interested in photo opportunities and glossy propaganda to project itself as modern, dynamic and future-oriented.
Government has taken too long to kick-start the tendering and selection process to identify the private training providers for these young people who so far are being deprived of continuing their education. Operators have told me how the tendering process should have started in the first week of August but in fact started at least two weeks late. The operators were given less than two weeks to prepare their tenders and offers and were told that they would be given a reply by mid-September. The date passed but they were completely left in the dark.
Government should not hide its incompetence behind excuses of having to deal with cumbersome EU tendering processes. It knows that they are cumbersome and should have planned well ahead. Unless everything is being done in a rush on purpose to choose well-connected private training providers who are not properly qualified and equipped to give our young people good quality training and education.
Now that the selection process is well underway and in its final stages I hope that government is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that these private training providers are licensed, have the right facilities and qualified staff, with buildings that are accessible to disabled persons and operate in the same buildings on which they have been given a permit. I hope that the selection criteria are not being tampered with to allow operators who are training providers in name only and their top priority is to live off public funds rather than to train and educate our young people. This is not the way to do things if we are really serious about giving our young people the IT skills they need for a bright future career.
I also find it strange that the Ministry of Education is not involved directly in the tendering and selection process for the private training providers and allows the Ministry of Austin Gatt to take over. Surely the Minister of Education Dolores Cristina should be worried at the drop-out and failure rate of young people who are taking up ITC courses at MCAST. Government boasts about the number of young people joining these courses but then is doing nothing to find out why we have so many young people – an unacceptably high rate ranging from 20 to 30% – dropping out of these courses or failing to pass their exams.
There is something wrong that needs to be identified and addressed.

Not a PN Supporters’ Club
The PN runs this country like a one-party state and wants the Labour Party to be another PN Supporters’ Club. While working in the national interest we must never betray our role as an Opposition in a democratic system. Our job is to hold government to account, speak up whenever government behaves badly and stand up for all those who are treated shabbily by the government.
I am sure that we have been unable to carry out these duties to the full in the past few months as we have been too busy involved in internal party affairs. While putting our house in order is a priority, we are neglecting our role in the country at large at our peril. A friend of mine who works at the Malta Shipyards told me recently: “I am not surprised when a person who does not like me tries to beat me up, but then I expect my friend to stick up for me and at least lift a finger to help me and not simply tell me: run away so that you will avoid a beating.”
If we want to stand a chance at becoming a credible alternative government we must discover a new sense of national purpose that we share with the majority of people that lives on these islands.
We must unite and become disciplined and believe in ourselves if we want others to believe in us.


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