Columns

Hurrah, no tax on books!

Wesley Barrett

Monday, July 02, 2012    

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I was puzzled when it was announced that there was again the intention of putting GCT on textbooks. While no item should be sacrosanct from the imposition of a consumption tax, I thought a moratorium on taxing books should be held until the economy was sufficiently improved to accommodate this type of tax. In fact, I saw part of the solution to an improved economy as our keeping the price of reading materials, especially textbooks, as low as possible and without a tax. Because education is the most critical factor in achieving economic growth and development, and reading materials are the basic inputs of a good education, taxing textbooks would therefore be counterproductive.

To say I was absolutely relieved to learn that the government had relented on imposing the tax on textbook is to understate a fact. The unworkable proposed solution of making the schools handle purchases and sales had caused me to shudder. It would have been a colossal administrative nightmare for schools to implement the proposal. Could one imagine parents of children not old enough to make purchases converging on open school grounds to buy books? Could we see the distractions and hear teachers competing with noisy parents to be heard, or could we see the potential for pimps to disrupt classes under the pretence of coming to buy books? Erecting classrooms would have to give way to erecting bookstores! Were our civil servants so lacking in thinking to the extent of their proposing distortions into the market for books? Well!

The coincidence of the relenting of the tax measure and the opening of a library at Moneague College could not be happier, and the significance of the occasion should not be lost. Finance Minister Peter Phillips, with usual dignity and suave pride, was on hand to witness the opening of the library in honour of his father the late Dr Aubrey Phillips, an icon in the Jamaican education system. Moneague College had lost one of its most valued physical assets, its library, in a fire. Through the driving force of the principal and his staff, priority or urgency was put to reconstructing the facility in order to make resources available to students and staff, hence the library’s opening. The symbolism was great. One hopes that copies of Adolescence in Jamaica the time-enduring text by Aubrey Phillips will be placed among the reference books in all libraries of our educational institutions.

GSAT

Reported is an improvement in the performance of our students in the 2012 GSAT sitting. We await further details to determine the real extent. Since the introduction of the examination in 1999, there has been an increasing trend in student performance, but at a halting pace. Between then and 2010, the entire cohort of about 50,000 sat the exams. The annual average moved from under 50 per cent across all subject areas in the inception year to about 60 per cent in 2010. Since then, the lowest performing students, that is, those not passing the Grade Four Literacy Test have been debarred from the exams. It means therefore that the results reflected only a percentage of the cohort of students, albeit a large per cent. What is imperative is that the entire cohort is able to complete the primary school curriculum and sit the examination. Otherwise, our assessment of the performance is incomplete.

Sadly, we were not spared the usual bashing of the newerestablished high schools arising from the results and school placement. When the CSEC results are published in August we can expect to hear more of the same. Instead of recognising that all of these schools are adding value and are increasing their output, some people and segments of the media are hell-bent on propagating the idea that students and their parents are justified in avoiding the newer schools. If the unhelpful critics make the effort to learn the facts, instead of clinging to old perceptions, they will soon discover that many of these schools are doing as well as some of the longer-established ones, and better in some subject areas in demand. Real opportunities are in all the schools and students should be encouraged to grasp them.

We should have passed the time when we are preoccupied with discussing “traditional high schools” versus “nontraditional high schools”. There was never any such classification. In an earlier article I wrote about the misnomer and will leave it there. Ironically enough, many of the schools called so try to be anything but traditional. They no longer offer Latin and they are including in their programme non-conventional subjects such as visual art, building technology and food and nutrition. Like colleges and universities, secondary schools do not attain and maintain the same standards at the same time. They develop and grow. Let’s set the standards, nationally, give succour to these and chat less about traditional and non-traditional high schools.

wesebar@yahoo.com

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