Opposition MP criticises plans to relocate ITS to Smart City

George Pullicino claims government not prioritising education, hits out at government approach to plans to distribute 'gay books' amongst state primary schools 

Opposition MP George Pullicino delivers a speech in Parliament
Opposition MP George Pullicino delivers a speech in Parliament

The Institute for Tourism Studies from its current Pembroke campus to Smart City, Opposition MP George Pullicino said.

During a parliamentary debate on the Budget, Pullicino warned that the Budgetary measure will displace tourism students from the “heart of the tourism community”.

He also cast doubt on why the relocation project is estimated to cost €56 million, pointing out that the entire MCAST campus in Paola cost €120 million.

‘Poor approach in gay books plans’

Earlier, Pullicino hit out at the government’s approach over its plans to distribute “gay books” [sic] amongst primary state schools.

“In July, [Education minister] Evarist Bartolo said that the LGBTI+ friendly books, donated by the Malta Gay Rights Movement, fit in with the education for all approach and that they could prove useful for parents who do not know how to approach the subject,” Pullicino said during a parliamentary debate on the Budget. “Afterwards, parents voiced their concerns on the minister’s Facebook wall that the state will be enforcing values on their children that contrast with their own.

“Now, Bartolo has ensured parents that the books wont be distributed to their children.

“Whether you agree with the distribution of these books or not, the way the government has handled this initiative is typical of its approach. First it introduces an initiative, then gauges the public reaction, and then decides whether to plough ahead with the scheme or not.”

Pullicino accused the government of not prioritizing education, criticising it for backtracking on the previous PN administration’s plans to construct a school every year.

“The Budget plans to open new secondary schools in Kirkop and Dingli, the same proposal as in the 2015 Budget,” he said. “The Prime Minister said that he wants to focus on renovating existing schools, but the previous administration had done that too and some schools need more than a lick of paint.”

Citing the Malta Teachers’ Union, he critcised “lack of foresight” behind the opening of the Guze Ellul Mercer school for students who obtain one O-Level and wish to continue studying.

“The government had planned it to cater for 200 students, but only 40 have applied,” Pullicino said. “In a panic, the government has now changed the school’s entry criteria to also cater for student with no O-Levels.”

He also criticised the government’s approach to teacher transfers at the school – claiming that they had pledged not to transfer them to other schools, right before  informing some of them by e-mail of transfer, relocating them back to Guze Ellul Mercer until the end of October, and telling them that they will be relocated again if too few students apply.”

‘Commission for Higher Education a government puppet’

Pullicino had harsh words for the National Commission for Further and Higher Education, claiming that the education body has become a “government body”.

He hit out at its chairman Martin Scicluna for defending a controversial legal notice that relaxed the conditions necessary for educational institutions to be classified as universities, published days after government signed an agreement with Sadeen Group through which the Jordanian constructors will build and run the private ‘American University of Malta’.

“The PN in government always raised Malta’s educational standards, and we had expected the NCFHE’s chairman to have adopted a more professional stance.”

He cited former NCFHE chairman Joseph Zahra as saying that he is “greatly disappointed at the casual manner in which we are describing educational institutions as universities.”

With regards the Budget plans to prepare a University of Malta ‘masterplan’ and to grant stipends to mature university students, Pullicino said the previous administration had already introduced and implemented such stipends. The initiative, he said, had been been introduced in 2011.

Those eligible for stipends were principal breadwinners in a household or students, aged 23 and over, who could prove that the course of studies would improve their employment prospect.

Elsewhere, Pullicino warned that the laboratory of MCAST’s design institute only caters for 16 students, despite it being legally bound to cater for 20, and that the capital expenditure for Foundation for Tomorrow Schools has gone down by €2.5 million.

With regards the mainstreaming of co-education in state schools, he said that teachers who had previously only taught at either girls’ or boys’ schools are finding it difficult to adapt –particularly where discipline is concerned.

While he welcomed the governemnt’s hiring of 176 new Learning Support Assistants this year, he warned that 778 students are still waiting to be allocated as LSA.

“ In Opposition, Bartolo had said that children can’t wait, so can they wait now?” the MP asked.