Parents are paying more for children’s ebooks than old textbooks
A LACK of State policy on digital learning is leaving parents hundreds – and even thousands of euro – out of pocket, the children’s charity Barnardos has warned.
Many cash-strapped schools are asking parents to cover the costs of pricey iPads and laptops.
And ebooks, which it was hoped would slash education costs, are proving just as expensive as paper books, after a controversial state VAT levy is added. All this results in already cash-strapped parents paying much more for ebook
‘Lack of digital policy is costing parents’
learning than they did for a traditional education with paper textbooks. ‘It’s a crazy system, a nutty system. No other jurisdiction would have it,’ said Barnardos boss Fergus Finlay.
‘Sweden introduced digital learning decades ago with the state supplying what children need. British law requires a child must have waiting for him in school all the resources he needs.
‘Here, there’s no policy at all, there’s nothing put down anywhere, nothing about what they would like to see happen.’
He called on the Government to fulfil an election promise – first made by Fine Gael in 1937 – to make all primary books free, and follow this up for secondary books in a three-year programme. In the meantime, under-funded schools operate varying policies on digital learning. Some shun it altogether because of the costs.
Others are asking parents to cough up hundreds and in some cases thousands of euro to pay for often pricey laptops and tablets. Parents are reporting that they have to fork out €700 on average for laptops, and up to €800 for iPads pre-loaded with ebooks.
One mum, Anne-Marie Murtagh, told the Irish Mail on Sunday how she had to pay €2,400 for three iPads loaded with school books for her daughters attending secondary school.
Ebooks also can’t be ‘passed down’ in the time-honoured tradition that has cut family schoolbook bills for generations. ‘And we only get to license the books once for a certain period,’ she added. The system also eliminates the small cash bonus parents used to get from selling books.
Mr Finlay said the Minister for Education Richard Bruton should, for starters, he believes, subsidise digital expenses. The compulsory use of digital devices in secondary schools has reached 25% with the financial burden placed on parents, according to the Barnardos report. Some 81% of parents fund the devices needed, with another 77% coughing up for apps and software. The average cost of a laptop is €700. Ebooks cost 30% less to produce than paper versions, according to publishers.
But their cost advantage is gobbled up by the 23% VAT the State levies on eBooks alone.
But a spokesman for the Department of Education said under EU law the VAT rate on ebooks must stand for now at 23%. However, a new proposal to allow states’ leeway to change VAT rates is under discussion at EU level.The National Parents Council Secondary has called on the Government to set up a common platform where ebooks can be made available to all schools.
‘There should be a common platform that’s suitable for android devices which are much cheaper than Apple,’ said spokesman Ross MacMahon.