The high cost of free ed­u­ca­tion

Par­ents of GSAT awardees get painful awak­en­ing

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Verona An­toine-Smith Con­trib­u­tor

PER­HAPS THE big­gest irony of free ed­u­ca­tion in Ja­maica is the high costs that par­ents still have to pay for their chil­dren to ac­cess it.

Emerg­ing trends in some sec­ondary schools demon­strate that the idea of free ed­u­ca­tion is, at best, a po­lit­i­cal cliché. This year, some par­ents of Grade Six Achieve­ment Test ( GSAT) awardees who were placed at se­lected sec­ondary schools were done a dis­ser­vice. No sooner had they ac­cepted their place­ments, t hey were met with im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cial de­mands.

(1) THE REG­IS­TRA­TION PROCESS

One of the first costs en­coun­tered by par­ents was as­so­ci­ated with the reg­is­tra­tion process. Most schools charged a fee for reg­is­tra­tion pack­ages, which par­ents had to col­lect in or­der to pro­ceed. These fees ranged from as low as $800 i n one Re­gion 3 school to a high of $7,500 in a Re­gion 1 school.

Upon open­ing this pack­age they were met with other im­pend­ing ex­penses: med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion, sum­mer school, uni­form/ma­te­rial, book lists, and PTA and aux­il­iary fee vouch­ers.

While many par­ents could vol­un­tar­ily dis­miss sum­mer school pro­grammes and, hence, the re­lated charges, that rep­re­sented the only cost that they could evade. All other costs had to be paid, which led to a grow­ing con­cern for many: When are these fees due?

(2) JULY DEAD­LINES

While par­ents could ap­pre­ci­ate the im­me­di­acy with which a med­i­cal re­port might be re­quired, sev­eral ex­pressed con­cern that some ad­min­is­tra­tors de­manded the pay­ment of the con­tentious aux­il­iary fees long be­fore the start of the new aca­demic year. Just un­der 40 per cent of the sur­veyed schools or­dered par­ents to fork out the year’s fees in July, with dead­lines as early as the week com­menc­ing July 13, 2015.

It could be ar­gued that par­ents should have been sav­ing for their chil­dren’s high school ed­u­ca­tion; nonethe­less, t he harsh eco­nomic cli­mate in which Ja­maicans cur­rently ex­ist can­not be ig­nored. In Jan­uary, The Sta­tis­ti­cal In­sti­tute of Ja­maica re­ported an un­em­ploy­ment rate of 14.2 per cent, and that in­cluded par­ents. Yes, some par­ents are ac­tu­ally un­em­ployed, some are ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the Pro­gramme of Ad­vance­ment Through Health and Ed­u­ca­tion (PATH), some get by on re­mit­tances, some earn the min­i­mum wage, and some are gain­fully em­ployed, ac­cord­ing to the sta­tis­tics, but their net salary is woe­fully in­ad­e­quate.

Then there are those who get paid round about the 25th of each month. When ad­min­is­tra­tors de­mand pay­ment long be­fore pay­day, where ex­actly do t hey ex­pect par­ents t o source it from? More im­por­tant, is this a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion?

Think about it. The en­tire sum­mer break is ahead, yet long be­fore par­ents can fig­ure out who will stand as guar­an­tors for their next ‘back-to-school loan’, they are man­dated to pay aux­il­iary fees.

From an ad­min­is­tra­tive per­spec­tive, it can be un­der­stood that school re­pairs are nec­es­sary, util­ity bills need to be de­frayed, and the list con­tin­ues. But where is the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s con­tri­bu­tion to these schools? Prin­ci­pals must take the Gov­ern­ment to task, col­lec­tively ad­dress any in­ef­fi­cien­cies through the Ja­maica As­so­ci­a­tion of Prin­ci­pals of Sec­ondary Schools, and in­sist that traunches be paid in a timely fash­ion.

(3) NO FEES ... NO TEXT­BOOKS

In some schools, ac­cess­ing text­books for rental was con­tin­gent on the pay­ment of aux­il­iary fees. Ob­vi­ously, this was an ad­min­is­tra­tive tac­tic to en­force par­ents’ com­pli­ance. How­ever, the grim re­al­ity was that par­ents who couldn’t af­ford to pay at the ap­pointed time were not al­lowed to col­lect their chil­dren’s text­books, which the min­istry pro­vided un­der the Na­tional Text­book Rental/Loan Scheme. Fifty four per cent of the schools sur­veyed ad­mit­ted that these new stu­dents had to pay aux­il­iary fees as a pre­con­di­tion to col­lect­ing their rental books.

Con­versely, some ad­min­is­tra­tors de­nounced this wor­ry­ing trend and in­di­cated that their text­book rental was not con­tin- gent on the pay­ment of any fees what­so­ever. Fur­ther, some ex­plained that pay­ment wasn’t due un­til Au­gust 31 and, even so, pay­ment plans were in place for those par­ents who could not af­ford to pay the to­tal fees at once.

(4) THE REAL COST OF FREE ED­U­CA­TION

Aux­il­iary fees for the aca­demic year 2015/16 range from $6,000 to $41,000

So with the sur­veyed aux­il­iary fees for the aca­demic year 2015/16 rang­ing from $6,000 to $41,000 (in non-board­ing in­sti­tu­tions), one might ask: How much does free ed­u­ca­tion cost? In­dis­putably, its real cost varies across house­holds: One par­ent, a PATH ben­e­fi­ciary, broke down in tears when she was in­formed that her son would not get the text­books un­til the aux­il­iary fees were paid.

Another par­ent was baf­fled to see a tablet listed as an In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy (I.T.) re­quire­ment on her daugh­ter’s book list. In another school, the break­down of the aux­il­iary fee re­flected a charge of $9,000 for IT lab ac­cess. Clear in­struc­tions were that if the stu­dent doesn’t pay that fee, there would be no ac­cess to IT for that aca­demic year.

The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion con­tin­ues to take de­lib­er­ate steps, to mon­i­tor school fees and to ap­prove text­books for pur­chase and/or rental. Its ef­forts are aimed at min­imis­ing the fi­nan­cial bur­dens faced by par­ents, thereby in­creas­ing stu­dents’ ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, with the ul­ti­mate goal of im­prov­ing na­tional lit­er­acy rates and over­all aca­demic per­for­mance.

Clearly, ad­di­tional mea­sures are re­quired to pre­serve this vi­sion and to safe­guard par­ents.

MAS­SIVE MEDIA MERGER:

The big news last week came from an un­usual news maker, as it was an­nounced that Ra­dio Ja­maica Lim­ited had ac­quired the media as­sets of the 180year-old Gleaner Com­pany to form the largest media con­glom­er­ate in the English-speak­ing Caribbean. The boards of the 180-year-old Gleaner Com­pany and the 65-year-old Ra­dio Ja­maica ap­proved the merger of both en­ti­ties, and the Ja­maica Stock Ex­change has been ad­vised of the deal. The trans­ac­tion will re­quire share­hold­ers and court ap­proval, as well as some sup­port from reg­u­la­tors such as the Broad­cast­ing Com­mis­sion of Ja­maica.

THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT COM­MIS­SION OF IN­VES­TI­GA­TIONS (INDECOM):

Mark­ing five years of op­er­a­tion and with Com­mis­sioner Ter­rence Wil­liams re­turned for another turn at bat, the watchdog sought to as­sure hon­est po­lice men and women that they have no need to fear its in­ves­ti­ga­tion as long as they are do­ing their job law­fully.

LLOYD B SMITH:

The Gov­ern­ment Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment stuck to his guns de­spite crit­i­cisms of his claim that the lottery scam, which has left a trail of death across western Ja­maica, has pro­vided an eco­nomic wind­fall for busi­nesses,

GRAN­DI­SON

which should now con­trib­ute to the var­i­ous so­cial-in­ter­ven­tion pro­grammes that seek to tar­get at-risk young peo­ple.

TY­RONE GRAN­DI­SON:

The Ja­maica-born com­puter sci­en­tist hit the front pages af­ter he was ap­pointed deputy chief data of­fi­cer in the United States Depart­ment of Com­merce.

JA­MAICA:

‘Proud & free at 53’, the na­tion cel­e­brated In­de­pen­dence Day with pomp and pageantry, par­ties and pic­nics as Ja­maicans marked another year as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion.

FILE

Ju­bi­lant stu­dents of As­cot Pri­mary School in St Cather­ine cel­e­brat­ing their GSAT re­sults ear­lier this year.

AN­TOINE-SMITH

FILE PHOTO

Gover­nor Gen­eral Sir Pa­trick Allen in­spects the guard of hon­our, fur­nished by The First Batal­lion The Ja­maica Reg­i­ment.

Media mag­nates J. Lester Spauld­ing (left) and Oliver Clarke shake on a deal for the merger of RJR and The Gleaner at The Ja­maica Pe­ga­sus last week.

SMITH

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