Minister of Education and Youth, Fayval Williams is blaming supply chain issues in part for the delay in students receiving textbooks nearly one month since the start of the new school year on September 5.
“We have sent a schedule to schools outlining when textbooks will be available.
“Unfortunately, we are also subjected to the same supply chain pressures because all the textbooks are printed outside of Jamaica and have to be shipped to Jamaica,” Williams said Wednesday at the post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House.
However, Opposition Spokesman on Education and Training, Senator Damion Crawford, is not satisfied with the explanation offered by the Minister. In a statement issued Wednesday, Crawford described the textbook shortage as a “travesty of justice for our children”.
Crawford reminded that on August 18, he “highlighted the impending issue of a grave shortage of books available to students under the Government's Book Rental programme”.
“At that time, I warned that as much as 60 per cent of students would not have access to the books they were meant to have. The Ministry of Education found this to be unimportant and downplayed the severity of the issue,” Crawford stated.
He said that over 30 days later the truth is coming to the forefront as was highlighted in a newspaper article dated September 22, 2022, with the headline ‘Schools juggling textbook, furniture, teacher shortages”.
Crawford noted that in the article, President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, La Sonja Harrison lamented that three weeks into the new school year, educators were doing their best to cope with staff, furniture, and textbook shortages. The JTA president noted that some schools had not received any books and those lucky enough to receive any have received inadequate numbers.
“This means that our children have already suffered a setback in their education because of the COVID crisis and are now facing yet another hurdle of not having the required textbooks promised by the government,” Crawford argued.
He said some schools were asking parents to buy textbooks that are part of the government’s book rental scheme to make up for the clear disadvantages that students will face without them.
Said Crawford: “On September 1st the Minister of Education said that $2 billion ‘will be’ allocated for this purpose. But so far, this has not happened. Additionally, six days before the start of the school year, the words "will be" should not be on the lips of any proactive Minister of Education. Indeed, the provision of textbooks should have been at the end of the implementation stage and not just the planning/funds allocation stage”.
Crawford said the government’s “lazy and lackluster approach to providing the necessary learning resources for our children is at minimum a gross dereliction of duty”. He said the minister should be required to provide immediate answers to the public on the following:
-What was the cause for the delayed action in allocating funds to the Book Rental Scheme?
-When will these funds be spent?
-Is there a complete list of the books needed?
-What is the timeline for the full distribution of the books?
Meanwhile, Crawford is recommending that the Minister do the following:
1) Implement a reimbursement scheme for parents/guardians who are willing and able to purchase books through the government scheme.
2) Communicate with publishers for codes to be sent of chapters of each book that parents can print as necessary at their expense where affordable.
3) Communicate with teachers regarding homework so the relevant sections can be photocopied as a short term reprieve.
In the meantime, Williams said the education ministry was using e-books for a third straight year with the adaption this year being better than in previous years.
She explained that the ministry sends the download link to the students which she said has proven to be more efficient.
“Only one download is required of the student and the book will be on their device for the year,” Williams explained. She said the ministry continues to work with schools to understand their particular challenges while the schools, in turn, have indicated the mix of books versus e-books that they would like and the ministry has been accommodative.
Williams also said the Cabinet has approved the award of a contract to provide e-books for students in grades seven to 11 under the Ministry of Education’s National Textbook Loan Scheme.