Cost of education hurting parents

BY JEDIAEL CARTER Staff reporter carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, September 12, 2015

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"EDUCATION is the only legitimate way to upward mobility," Jamaica's Education Minister Ronald Thwaites told the island's youth recently at the National Children's Summit. But how affordable is education to Jamaicans?


Samantha Murphy, a mother of three children, said she believes the cost of education in Jamaica is too high.


"If something is not done to assist those who are studying, then we will have a country where our people are illiterate," Murphy said.


She said that in preparation for this academic year she has spent over $55,000 for her children who are at the primary and secondary levels.


Similarly, Andrew Gibbons, a father of three and a stepfather to two, said he has spent over $45,000 on his children since he started back-to-school preparations. Gibbons, who splits the expenses with the children's mother, said that this would have been significantly more if he were to cover all the expenses.


The notion that education is free in Jamaica seems paradoxical to Jamaican parents who have been doling out thousands of dollars to cover the expenses for their children at all levels.


"In Jamaica, the common view is that education is free. I will hasten to say that, that is not the case. From as early as basic school, parents have to pay a contribution at the school to offset payment to teachers, especially those who are not paid by the Ministry of Education. As young as these children are their parents do have to buy materials for them to use in classes [because] if [the] government gives them some material, that is not enough," Murphy highlighted when asked her view on the cost of education in Jamaica.


Though dependent on the individual's choice between the public and private system, school fees at the early childhood level range between $8,000 and $30,000 per term.


For Shauntae Tapper to gather all the necessary materials to prepare her two-year-old for his first day of school, she said she spent close to over $85,000.


"The expenses were crazy. It was almost like sending a big person to school," Tapper lamented.


Tapper who pays $32,500 per term for school fee was also expected to get paintbrush, apron, playdough, storybooks, typing sheet, scrapbook, crayons and writing books for her child. She estimates that by the end of this term she will pay up to $100,000 for her child as she outlined that other expenses such as transportation, lunch and other miscellaneous expenses will have to be covered.


A child in a government- operated early childhood school costs his parent roughly $8,000 per term for the school's fee. Outside of books and educational material, each child at this level is expected to take his own placemat, tissue, hand soap, wash cloths and snacks to school.


Parents pay between $500 and $750 for lunch per week at this level and as the year progresses are asked to contribute to additional fund-raisers.


At the primary level, the level that should be covered by the Government, parents are expected to pay additional monies to the schools which is used to help offset expenses that cannot be covered by the money allotted to the school by the ministry.


"When they reach primary school, again they have to make a contribution since the subvention that the Government gives to the school is not adequate," Murphy outlined.


An additional $5,500 for each child is expected of parents with children at a primary school in St Catherine. Of the sum, $3,000 covers PTA dues for the year, $2,000 for physical education gear and another $500 for the insurance of the child for the year. The PTA dues are expected to pay ancillary workers and cover the upkeep of the school for the year.


Another parent with a child at this level, who requested to remain anonymous, said she paid just about $5,000 in "contribution" to her son's school for the year.


She added that the school has sent home a list of additional materials that the classroom will need. The list, she said, included liquid soap, mop, wash cloths, cleaning agents and contribution for a fan.


Parents also pay additional monies for extracurricular activities and extra classes at this level. But all these expenses exclude the all-important books that are paramount to the development of a child.


One woman, who identified herself as Lisa, told the Jamaica Observer that $18,000 was used to purchase the books required for her sixth grade child. Lisa, a mother with two children at the primary level and one in high school, said she can't pass down books as much anymore because most books these days are workbooks, and are therefore written in from previous years.


"It hasn't been going so well," a mother of two who identified herself as Kelly said last week while completing additional back-to-school shopping, "normally I would finish buying from July but me just a start practically." She said the lack of money has inhibited her usual practice of getting all her children's material from early.


Kelly, who has a child in high school and another in preparatory school, said the booklist for her child in preparatory school totalled $20,000.


Matriculation from the primary level comes at an even greater cost as despite the Government's cost-sharing programme offered to some students, parents are expected to pay up to $15,000 in school fees which cover book rental and medical for the year. The PTA and insurance fees at some high schools add another $10,000 to expenses.


Murphy said that the fees for one child at the secondary level tallied $12,000 for the year. This, according to the receipt, would cover special fund ($5,200), resource and technology fee ($3,800), insurance ($1,000) and PTA dues ($2,000).


Kelly told the Sunday Observer that $35,000 was only able to pay for a half of her eldest child's booklist despite the fact that books are rented to students for the year at a reduced cost.


At the pre-university level, a level not funded by the Government, parents have to absorb all expenses which oftentimes total between $30,000 and $70,000.


Though 80 per cent of the tuition fee is covered by the Government, students are not exempted from the six- figure tuition fees at the tertiary level.


Students at the tertiary level pay a low of $250,000 to millions annually, depending on the degree of choice, in tuition fees.


"At the tertiary level, that is where the bulk of the money is spent. At this level, students are required to pay exorbitant fees that are out of their scope sometimes. Some may be fortunate enough to get scholarships which sometimes assist them; others who are not that fortunate just have to struggle their way through," Murphy told the Sunday Observer.


Additional expenses such as accommodation, clothing, textbooks, meals, miscellaneous fees and school equipment are to be considered by the tertiary student.


According to the recent Bank of Jamaica Quarterly Credit Conditions Survey Report, the demand for back-to-school loans this year may cause an increase in interest rates for personal loans in the September quarter. The rates may go up to 20.3 per cent -- the highest levels for the year.



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