A free tablet computer will be given to Year IV schoolchildren to improve their IT literacy, according to plans unveiled by the Labour Party this morning.

Unveiling the party's roadmap for education, Labour leader Joseph Muscat said the core principles were that education would continue to be free of charge and that more young people would study after secondary school.

A Labour government, he said, would boost efforts against illiteracy, including IT literacy.

To boost IT literacy, a Labour government would give a free tablet computer to all schoolchildren in Year IV in all primary schools - private, church and government. This initiative would be carried out in conjunction with the private sector. The cost was estimated conservatively at €1.5 million.

Some 4,000 pupils would benefit from the 'one tablet per child' scheme.

"This is the future," Dr Muscat said, adding that the private sector would be invited to participate in a fund for this scheme and contribute to it as part of their corporate social responsibility. The issue would be discussed with the private sector and there could be tax cuts for contributors. However the €1.5m outlay estimate was based on the government footing the bill.

He said Labour did not plan revolutions in education, but to build on the good that existed.

A new government, he said would launch a national strategy against illiteracy.

It would empower teachers and heads of school, rather than having them constrained by 'orders from above'. Teachers, he said, knew best what was good for the children in their care, and they should be able to come up with initiatives to help pupils in groups and individually.

Local and school libraries would be strengthened and the central library would be modernised and better resourced.

Education spokesman Evarist Bartolo said the purpose was to have functional literacy, enabling more people to participate in society and the labour sector.

Malta, he said, placed at the bottom end of international surveys on literacy skills.

Breaking down the literacy barriers means giving children the tools they needed not to fall back. There was also need to work closer with families, particularly those near the poverty line. Labour's emphasis on childcare centres, he said, was part of this educational initiative because the early years were crucial for child development.

Replying to questions, Dr Muscat said Labour would not touch the stipends.

Mr Bartolo said Labour regretted its measures to restructure the stipends system in 1996 but said it had been constrained by the serious financial situation it inherited from the previous Nationalist government.