THE Opposition People's National Party (PNP) has claimed that the education ministry's secondary textbook book rental scheme is in trouble due to severe underfunding, jeopardising the chances of thousands of students having access to the much-needed benefit this year.
According to Opposition spokesman on education and training Damion Crawford, talks with principals reveal that between 20 and 60 per cent of students will not be able to get all the books due to them through the rental system in the upcoming school year that starts in September.
"There is a grave concern about the shortage of rental books going into September 2022. Interviews with parents indicate that last year some children got none of their rental books because of the shortage of rental books within the system. This comes at a time when many Jamaicans are finding it difficult to get the books on the current list distributed for purchase," Crawford told a press conference on Wednesday. He said this would be made worse if parents are forced to purchase books that the Government should provide.
He said principals have indicated that the shortage of books is worse for students attending non-traditional schools. "While the Government and its apologists will be quick to argue that the low return rates have contributed to this circumstance, it doesn't negate the fact that simply by usage there will occur damage to these books. Additionally, necessary replacement quotas in all rental businesses has been set and is the norm within this type of affair," he stated.
The Government, said Crawford, must immediately invest $2 billion in replenishing the book stock in the scheme, and pursue arrangements with textbook publishers to access online versions of books, which parents could print. He said parents should also be allowed to purchase individual chapters, based on curriculum needs, so that the cost is extended over time instead of having to fully come out of pocket all at once.
In 2017, the ministry threatened to make students who damage, lose or fail to return textbooks under the Government's secondary-school book rental scheme pay for them, and that they would be blocked from the scheme until payments were made. However, it is understood that this is not currently a ministry directive.
On Wednesday, the education ministry told the Jamaica Observer that schools may ask for a fee to replace damaged or lost books, given that they should have a three- to five-year cycle at the institutions. Students are not expected to replace books damaged or lost due to a fire or natural disaster, the ministry said.
In 2019, the Government budgeted $817 million to provide textbooks for primary and secondary school students and to provide students with books and appropriate electronic and other supplies to support the National Standards Curriculum and other curricula at Grades one to 13 for that year.
Textbooks were distributed to schools during the period of physical closure during the COVID-19 crisis, and administrators were advised to allow students to take them home for return at the end of the school term. The ministry also informed that e-books were distributed to some schools.