MONTEGO BAY, St James — Member of Parliament for Kingston East and Port Royal Phillip Paulwell is expressing fear that a number of parents will buckle under increased back-to-school expenses, including a steep hike in the price of textbooks, as the new academic year approaches.
"I am very concerned about the back-to-school process this year. I know it is going to be very difficult for parents because, apart from the high price of gas and basic food, school things are going up, your school fees are going up. I mean, I saw some booklists recently in my own constituency and the price of books have gone up tremendously over last year," Paulwell lamented.
He was speaking Saturday night at the St James West Central constituency conference at Granville Primary School in the parish.
Stressing the value of computers to students, Paulwell, who is a former minister of science, technology, energy and mining in the People's National Party (PNP) Administration, recounted that he was instrumental in the conceptualisation of the Tablets in Schools programme, which commenced at the start of the 2014/15 academic year.
But he bemoaned that after the PNP lost the 2016 General Election, the Andrew Holness-led Government failed to continue the programme, until the onset of novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Tablets in Schools programme was one of several initiatives being financed under the Universal Service Fund (USF) during Paulwell's time at the helm of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM) in the PNP Administration.
"When we left office in 2016 we had, through the Universal Service Fund, a project which was designed to ensure that every single pickney get a tablet computer. That was the dream...that was the vision we had in establishing the USF. Not one computer was distributed until COVID and people, like mad ants, start running up and down," he claimed.
He expressed fear that "as we move away from the urgency of COVID they're going to drop the baton again".
He argued that "the utility of a tablet computer is not only to assist with remote learning, which is what COVID forced on us".
"In this day and age no child can do well in school without having access to computers — it is just not possible any more. And so, I'm calling upon the Government, rather than shutting down the programme, to distribute tablets to our students. They now need to continue it. In fact, increase it so that that dream that we had for every youngster, especially those at the primary school level, to have a computer of his or her own, can be realised, can become a reality," Paulwell urged.
"There is no reason why a student in Jamaica should be different from a student in Japan, or the United States of America, or Canada. With that tool we are going to level the playing field so that we can perform far better in education," he added.
When the next general election is called, Opposition Senator Janice Allen, who is expected to represent the PNP in that constituency, will go up against the JLP's Marlene Malahoo Forte. Malahoo Forte has been at the helm of the constituency since 2016.
Meanwhile, Paulwell expressed disappointment that the PNP does not currently occupy any of the five seats in St James.
"... I feel sad, I feel bad. And my challenge to you tonight is: Let us work together to correct that, starting in this great constituency of West Central St James," Paulwell urged.
"If we are united we are unstoppable…but we don't have a chance of winning if we are not united."