Sunday, 27 April 2008

No to the Privatisation of Schools!

As a former British colony, it is my opinion that as far as economic policies are concerned, Malta often seems to follow those implemented in the UK. This normally tends to happen a few years after such policies are adopted in the UK, but they eventually reach our shores. Taking the financial services sector as an example, similar to the UK, Malta is presently trying to be one of the world's hotspots for investments, insurance, and the like. Although there is nothing wrong in adopting a number of sound policies, there is always the risk that certain strategies might not really be socially beneficial.

The privatisation of schools in Malta does not appear to be on the current government's agenda. Until now. Yet, given the Nationalist Party's support for privatisation, I would not be so shocked to see Dr Gonzi showing an interest in following the model that is being adopted in the UK.

Copied below is the text from a leaflet published on the 24/04/2008 by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). It is important to take a good look at the issues touched upon in this document since they could be witnessed in Malta during the next few years:

Stop the privatisation of our schools! Free, quality education for all

The Labour government is in the process of privatising the school system by means of an array of different measures, each dressed up as a boon for teachers, parents and pupils.

Private Finance Initiative

Schools have been the primary target of PFI. Major building work in schools is now almost invariably funded and managed by private profiteers, who make their investment back through payment of instalments.

Ostensibly, this is done in order to get the most 'competitive' prices and services; in reality, it is done in order to get taxpayers' money into the coffers of massive construction companies and consultancy and management firms, whilst giving the illusion of lower public spending.
The various PFI consortia make big promises but provide a terrible service. According to a recent government-level survey, half of a sample of 52 secondary schools built in England in the last five years were at best "mediocre". Nine of the worst ten had been built under the PFI.
As George Monbiot points out: "Once the consortium has its foot in the door, it starts to raise its price and reduce its services. It will discover costs which weren't envisaged before. It will price the likely inflation of labour and materials as generously as possible." (The Spectator, 10 March 2002)

And yet it's becoming extremely difficult for schools to get funding from anywhere else. When PFI was introduced, it was described as an adjunct to public spending; in fact, it is the replacement for public spending.

Since there's no other viable source of funding, relatively cheap proposals to refurbish or modernise existing buildings often have to be scrapped in favour of more lucrative demolition and rebuilding proposals that attract the PFI vultures.

The outlook for schools is dangerous. Schools get stuck in a debt trap and are unable to spend sufficient money on teachers, books and resources. "There is only one means of meeting the outrageous costs of PFI, and that is by cutting public services." (Ibid)

PFI is simply privatisation under another name, and should be opposed. Our call must be for free, high quality education for all, funded at state level.

Academies and religious schools

BBC News Online of 3 July 2007 reported that there are now only 340 comprehensive schools left in Britain - the rest have all become grammar schools and city academies.

The government target is for 95 percent of all schools to be grammar schools or city academies, which indicates a very clear policy: grammar schools for the middle -class kids that can't afford to go private, and vocation-centred, skills-based schools for working-class kids.

What's more, the funding model for the academies is heavily based in the private sector. Although they officially fall within the state sector, they are funded jointly with private 'sponsors', with the private 'sponsor' taking the lead in decision-making.

As Fiona Millar has pointed out: "It is still the case that parents and pupils in academies receive less protection under the law on everything from exclusions to special needs and admissions than their counterparts in community, voluntary aided, foundation or, indeed, trust schools . Staff are not protected by statutory terms and conditions, the governing body arrangements are still wholly undemocratic and largely exclude elected parents and other representatives of the community." (The Guardian, 9 October 2007)

Meanwhile, religious schools of all kinds continue to flourish. With increasing freedom to overthrow the curriculum (eg, some christian schools now teaching creationism instead of evolution), these schools are more than ever a breeding ground for bigotry and superstition, separating children along racial and religious lines and thus fueling racism.

The CPGB-ML is firmly opposed to academies, which are a form of privatisation, and to religious schools, which breed racism and division. Our children deserve a well-rounded and fully state-funded education via truly comprehensive schools.

Widening gap between rich and poor

A 2007 study showed that only 25.3 percent of pupils in the 10 percent most deprived areas gained at least five A-C grades at GCSE level. In the richest 10 percent of areas, the figure was 68.4 percent. This is a sharp increase in the disparity between the groups - in 2006, the figures were 29.2 percent in the poorest areas and 57.6 percent in the richest areas.

According to The Times of 31 December 2007, "The figures also show that the attainment gap between rich and poor continues to widen as pupils progress through school. At age 7, the performance gap between pupils in the 10 percent richest and poorest areas was 20 percentage points in 2007. At age 16, however, the gap had more than doubled to 43.1 percent, suggesting that far from being a leveller, school was increasing the disparity."

The widening class divide in state education did not come about by accident but by design. Maximum resources are being channelled to the middle class and a few bright working-class kids that the bourgeoisie feels will be useful in the attainment of profit, whilst the bulk of the working class is neglected.

There is a good reason for this. With British manufacture in freefall, there are going to be very few job opportunities for the workers, and those jobs there are will not require much in the way of education; therefore, to educate the workers is to help them on the road towards radical resistance to capitalism.

One means through which this class divide is enforced is the extraordinary array of national curriculum tests now in place, which are a source of great anxiety for children and teachers alike, and are an area of education that the majority of teachers are particularly unhappy about.
Study after study shows that excessive testing has a detrimental effect on children's learning and is a significant demotivating factor for kids who do not perform well. However, this government has ruthlessly pursued the assessment agenda, as these tests exist to help the bourgeoisie 'separate the wheat from the chaff' at an early age, so they don't waste money creating a class of literate unemployed.

Free, quality education for all

We demand free, universal, high quality education, which, apart from imparting skills and qualities for the "world of work in the 21st century", develops the critical and analytical skills of students.

Only socialism will bring true freedom and equality to the classroom. Meanwhile, we put forward the following demands for the interim period, demands which go some way towards alleviating the gross inequalities of the present educational divide:

the abolition of all private schools, grammar schools, religious schools and city academies;
a return to public funding and an end to PFIs;
an end to local management of schools, the internal market, league tables, 'parental choice', SATs, the privatisation of services, and the national curriculum;
the establishment of a proper comprehensive system of education with mixed ability teaching;
a dramatic increase in funding;
an end to tuition fees and loans for university students.

Text source

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Freedom of Speech: Should There Be Limits?

When sensitive topics are mentioned during a conversation, it is sometimes hard for certain individuals to tolerate the assertions made by other people. When this happens, heated arguments are often witnessed. Yet, what happens when a country's government does not tolerate what you or I think about a number of issues?

Sadly, there are still many countries around the world where disagreement is punished by imprisonment or in other ways. Very often, even those surrounding the individuals who are accused of making certain statements are subjected to cruel treatment.

Nowadays, we live in an era whereby rapid worldwide communication has become virtually unstoppable. Many people have their own blogs and enjoy airing their views about numerous issues. Criticism of individuals and of governments has become fairly common. Having said this, a 2006 article included the following statements by Amnesty International's Steve Ballinger: "Freedom of expression online is a right, not a privilege - but it's a right that needs defending...We're asking bloggers worldwide to show their solidarity with web users in countries where they can face jail just for criticising the government."

There are people who argue that no person should be allowed to say whatever he/she wishes. When viewing the photo posted above, some individuals expressed great rage towards such protestors. Indeed, I heard at least one person saying that people like that should be killed! I totally disagree with such views. To me, there is a huge difference between merely protesting about something and planning to harm other human beings. I am not threatened by the individual who simply criticises the political party I support in the local media; I am scared of the person who is scheming to blow up a bus full of people.

At this stage, one may ask: how can you be sure that a person who is protesting in the street is not a terrorist? Well, I cannot be sure because I am not capable of reading a person's thoughts. All I can say is that if every person who says something nasty about one politician or another is regarded as a terrorist, our prisons would be packed with inmates! :)

If an individual feels that there is a reasonable likelihood that another person might be planning to commit a terrorist act, the authorities should be contacted right away so that they can carry out all the necessary investigations. Yet, simply ordering groups of people to shut up will not really serve to gag them. Censorship never works. By hook or by crook, those individuals who want to voice their opposition to something will find ways to do so.

I love talking and listening to people. It is important to listen to what EVERY person has to say. I might disagree with several individuals, but every disagreement is an opportunity to re-examine my views and to determine whether my attachment to certain beliefs can still be justified.

By giving people the opportunity to express themselves, it becomes easier to reach out to those with whom we disagree. It becomes easier to understand the origins of various thought patterns. In a free environment, debates are possible and dangerous minds can be persuaded to become fountains of peace.

Communicators of the world, keep on writing and talking!!!

Image was posted from an email I received.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

First and Second-Class Citizens

In virtually every historical era, it could be said that most societies were split into two main groups - the first-class citizens and the second-class ones. Whereas the former have traditionally enjoyed various rights, the same cannot be said about the latter individuals. Whether we are talking about the women in ancient Greece who could not vote or the various immigrant groups in present-day Europe which are often demonised by many people, it is hard to deny the fact that human beings are still divided into groups that are associated with different opportunities.

As a socialist, I look at people as human beings. I give much more importance to the characteristics which we all share as members of Homo sapiens than to man-made concepts such as one's nationality. At the end of the day, if you had to compare a person from Nigeria to a German individual, both need to be nourished, both probably experience some degree of fear when faced with a number of stimuli, both need to relieve themselves of their natural waste products...

As a socialist, my perspective is an internationalist one. I am aware that as long as the same economic model is used in various parts of the world, people in very distant countries are nevertheless still extremely likely to have to deal with the same problems on an almost daily basis. Of course, a country might frequently have its own issues to deal with, but this does not mean that one should pursue progress in one's own country without being interested in what is happening in the rest of the world.

Living in Malta, it is my impression that there is a very irrational fear of anything that is unfamiliar. Whatever is completely new to huge parts of the Maltese population is often apparently perceived as a hostile element. Following the arrival of hundreds of African immigrants to Malta, one can still hear countless individuals spewing a great deal of hatred towards them. Prior to the arrival of these immigrants, a shocking degree of hostility was directed towards the Arab population living in Malta. To my knowledge, this hostility never reached the point witnessed in countries such as Germany where the negative feelings were translated into a number of violent acts. Sadly, I have still heard comments from some Maltese people such as "Hitler made a mistake when he killed the Jews...he should have killed the Arabs!"

Whenever I go out, I see many immigrants from different countries. I find it extremely sad to notice that the immigrants from certain parts of the world usually have no Maltese friends with them. As individuals who often cannot vote for various reasons, it seems that such immigrants tend to be swept aside into a universe of their own. Their lives and the lives of the other inhabitants often appear to unfold along parallel lines. I consider the hostility displayed by many Maltese people towards many immigrants to be totally unacceptable, especially when Malta is often portrayed as a very Catholic country!

As a socialist, I still look forward to the day when classes will no longer exist; when all human beings will be able to live together peacefully as citizens who share the same opportunities.