[WATCH] PN childcare proposal a ‘poverty trap’, Muscat insists

The Prime Minister lambasted the PN’s proposal stating that he is yet to understand the economic or social motive behind it

Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat (R) addresses a press conference with education minister Evarist Bartolo (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat (R) addresses a press conference with education minister Evarist Bartolo (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
PN childcare proposal a ‘poverty trap’, Muscat insists

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has called the Nationalist Party’s proposal to offer free childcare to all families across the board, a poverty trap, arguing that the point of free childcare is for the service to act as incentive to get people to work.

Muscat was addressing a press conference together with education minister Evarist Bartolo, where he said that he could not understand the reasoning behind the proposal as there must always be a gap between the “benefit of staying home and the benefit of going to work”. He added that the proposal could result in a situation where household become more dependent on social benefits.  

“I am yet to understand the economic and social purpose of the proposal,” Muscat said, who argued that the proposal would as a disincentive for people to work, and would reverse the current trend of people coming off benefits and joining the workforce.

The Prime Minister also questioned how the Nationalist Party would be paying for the measure, given that it was not addressing any particular problem.

Similarly, Bartolo said that offering free childcare across the board risked ruining what had been achieved so far.

“It will result in lower standards,” he said. “The service must be provided in an area that is large enough, there must be a particular child-to-carer ratio.”

Bartolo added that it was difficult enough for operators to find carers, and questioned whether the PN envisaged a system run by people who were not qualified.  

Bartolo stressed that the current system allows for the service to be available in social cases where it was needed despite parents not being employed.

During the press conference, Bartolo gave more details on the Labour Party’s proposals for the education sector, reiterating that a new Labour administration would remove fees associated with MATSEC and SEC exams, and would ensure that public exams are sat at the school attended by the student. He insisted that this was part of a drive to normalise exams as much as possible in order to reduce the pressure placed on students.

He also insisted that the pledge to offer free supervised transport to all students would benefit the students and also reduce traffic congestion during peak hours. Muscat underscored the fact that this measure would be structure in a way that would not omit small bus service providers.

“It won’t be a winner takes all jumbo contract,” he said.

Other measures intended to reduce stress that will be explored by a new Labour government include a consultation on a national homework policy, and measures to reduce the weight of schoolbags.

“We keep meeting parents who ask us how a nine-year-old girl can spend four or five hours doing homework,” Bartolo said, pointing out that schools with such a policy had shown better results than those that didn’t.

Turning to school teaching staff, Bartolo pointed out that the challenges faced by teachers in the class room had significantly increased and this needed to be taken into consideration.

He said government would start a process leading to improvements in the working conditions, adding that the government would have wanted to start the process earlier, however time was being given for elections of the president of the Malta Union of Teachers to come to an end.

Moreover, he said the government wanted to introduce a learning outcomes framework in order to cut down on syllabi, which in many cases are too vast.

“Teachers sometimes complain that the length of the syllabi and the time needed to cover it leaves no time for teaching,” Bartolo said.

He said that in addition to making it more realistic to teach, the change would also prevent teachers from burning out.

Finally, Bartolo discussed the Labour Party’s proposal to see apprentices paid no less than the minimum wage, insisting that while the previous administration had overseen a ten-fold increase in the number of apprentices since 2013, the system could still be improved.

Looking back at what had been achieved in the education sector, Bartolo pointed out that Malta had doubled its investment, and was probably the only country in Europe to have done so.

He pointed to the introduction of interactive whiteboards, tablets, 3D printers in schools, as well as laptops for teaching staff as evidence that the government was committed to improving the quality of education in Malta.

This was echoed by Muscat who said that investment in education was not limited to the building of schools, adding that through the introduction of co-ed classrooms, the introduction of “different school pathways” and other measures, constituted a “silent revolution” that had taken place in the education sector.