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Costs and educational investments

Wesley Barrett

Wednesday, October 10, 2012    

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THE complaint everywhere now is high and rising costs. The high cost of food, clothes and shelter has been making people more angry and irritable.

This is understandable, as these needs are the first requirement of life and if they become out of reach, then those affected are going to get “mad”. To appear blameless and not responsible, some businesses and vendors pre-empt customers by complaining “upfront” about how much more they have to pay for items, never mind the fact that, in the case of some supermarkets and stores, some of the items are from old stock. While it is a fact that costs are increasing and some people are hurting badly, it is also true, however, that many who complain are the cause for the complaints.

In many cases, not being able to meet rising costs has a personal root cause. It is the result of previous action or inaction by some in the past. Some actions are related to carelessness, lack of foresight and planning, as well as prodigality in preparing for the future. This happens both at the individual and government level. Of course, some actions have a short time lag while others have a lengthy one. Generally, many individuals, organisations and governments are all culpable to some degree for not preparing for rising costs.

As implied, rising costs are not new and seem to be a fixture in the Jamaican economy. Remarkably enough, many poor families respond with fortitude to rising cost. It can hardly be explained how they find a way to meet, even in part, one special cost — the cost of their children’s education. Self-denial and a sense of priority with the limited and meagre resources they have partly explain. More fundamentally, they make their self-denial a real investment in their children’s education. In years gone by it is reasonable to opine that a larger percentage of parents made such an investment. Today, the percentage is much smaller.

Of course, in the past there was not the frequency and aggressive advertising of new products and fashion styles and hence the temptation to “keep up with the Joneses” at the expense of the “house” money. To “keep in style” in preference to keeping within one’s means and budgets, some parents are yielding to impulsive buying. This, for some, means eliminating investment expenditure on education. One consequence is poor funding of education. In turn, schools are unable to provide effective learning programmes for students.

I want to suggest that both individuals and government must make a choice to invest more in education, ever mindful that there is a time lag for the dividends to be realised. Delaying now means postponing prospects for returns. For our government, it is true that expenditure on education is largest and challenging, but this is so because for any given point in time it has the largest set of “dependents”. Almost one million people, mainly schoolchildren have to be provided educational services directly on a daily basis. Over 1000 school plants constantly require infrastructural upkeep. This, along with the cost of providing the services, makes the education ministry’s budget the largest outside that of the Ministry of Finance which has responsibility for debt servicing. However, the investment is critical.

The implication is that with necessary expansion of services, expenditure will rise. But this must be budgeted for. This will require more tax revenue from both individuals and businesses. At the same time, increasing efficiency and effectiveness in government and schools will be required. But to measure and assess these factors fairly and accurately, a set of calibrated and agreed-upon tools will have to be developed and used so that disagreements between schools and the authorities on the interpretation of school output data and statistics can be minimised.

At the individual level, investment in the child through meeting educational expenditure for good nutrition, books, learning materials and so on should be a priority for parents. Such expenditure almost inevitably results in a greater potential for a better livelihood in the future for both child and parent. Though times are hard, every household and parent must make an effort to budget for the children’s education to give them a fighting chance in the future.

Although they complain so much of costs, can our banks consider making a special investment in education from the incredibly large spreads they maintain by providing concessionary loans to needy secondary school graduates pursuing tertiary studies? We should encourage Minister Thwaites, in his thoughtful initiative, to persuade the institutions thus.

Publication

The timely publication of The Teachers’ Struggles Continue by distinguished educator and community builder Dundee Hewitt should add richly to the literature on the investment of teachers in education from 1894 to the present. The story of great educational leaders of the past and of our time is told to inspire and motivate others to further contribute to educational development. The author is to be commended highly for the investment of time and resources and for sharing some delightful episodes in the history of education in Jamaica.

wesebar@yahoo.com

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