'Worst discrimination in any society'
PATH students not to be forced to pay auxiliary fees — Holness
OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Holness on Wednesday demanded that Government clarify its position on tuition-free education and the oft vexing issue of auxiliary fees.
Holness, who was guest speaker at the 70th anniversary Bursary Awards Function of the Credit Unions of Jamaica at the Terra Nova Hotel, referred to complaints he said he had received from beneficiaries of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH). The students, he said, are now required to pay supplementary tuition fees.
"We know that these persons are in need of assistance and they are now being asked to pay auxiliary fees otherwise they will be excluded from the education system. This is a departure from an accepted policy position," he said.
As Minister of Education in the Jamaica Labour Party Administration of 2007-2011, Holness presided over a free tuition policy, which meant that students across the public sector were relieved of tuition charges. They, however, paid supplementary costs called auxiliary fees which covered sundry items such as sport gear, school crests and epaulettes, and lab maintenance, but students under PATH — Government's social welfare programme targeting vulnerable groups such as the elderly, and pregnant and lactating women — were not mandated to pay those fees.
On Wednesday, Holness said the Ronald Thwaites-headed ministry has directed schools to collect auxiliary fees without cautioning them not to exclude students who are unable to pay. He said: "If it is that education is so necessary for growth and can be a constraint on growth, if it is not administered properly then why would you want to exclude any child by virtue of their economic status? To me that is the worst discrimination that could happen in any society," he said.
The Opposition Leader maintained that education is a public good and is a vaccine against poverty, hence, society should make it freely accessible from the early childhood to secondary level.
He also challenged the credit unions to set up an alternative students' loan system in light of the current moves to establish credit bureaux in Jamaica. The opposition leader said he believed that the credit unions were in a good position to help its members finance their tertiary education.