Damion Crawford, opposition spokesman on education and training, has declared that a current shortage of textbooks for Jamaican students is “a travesty of justice for our children”.
In a statement today (September 28), Crawford noted that back on August 18, he had warned that the shortage of textbooks was an impending concern for students hoping to see them available under the Government Book Rental Programme.
“At that time, we 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 instead downplayed the severity of the issue,” Crawford said.
Over 30 days later, the truth is being revealed as was captured in a recent Jamaica Gleaner article dated September 22, 2022, entitled ‘Schools juggling textbook, furniture, teacher shortages’. In the article, President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) La Sonja Harrison highlighted that, three weeks into the new school year, educators were doing their best to cope with staff, furniture, and textbook shortages.”
Crawford noted that Harrison lamented that “some schools have not received any books at all, and those who were lucky enough to receive any have received inadequate numbers to date”.
Said the opposition spokesman: “This means that our children who have already suffered a setback in their education because of the COVID crisis, are now facing yet another hurdle of not having the required textbooks promised by the Government.
“Some schools are even asking parents to buy textbooks that are part of the government book rental scheme to make up for the clear disadvantages that students will face without them.”
He said that, on September 1, Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams said that $2 billion “will be” allocated for this purpose but so far, this hasn’t happened.
“I am concerned that just six days before the start of the school year, the minister was making promises that the funds will be allocated, instead of being proactive and ensuring that schools had the necessary supplies prior to the reopening of schools,” he added.
“Indeed, the provision of textbooks should have been at the end of the implementation stage and not just the planning/funds allocation stage. The Government’s lazy and lacklustre approach to providing the necessary learning resources for our children is at minimum a gross dereliction of duty.”
Crawford said Williams should therefore 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?
“We await a timely response from the Minister of Education to this most urgent matter of national importance,” he said.
Additionally, Crawford recommended that the Government:
- Implement a reimbursement scheme for parents/guardians who are willing and able to purchase books listed on the government book rental programme
- Communicate with publishers for codes to be sent of chapters of each book so that parents can print as necessary at their cost where affordable
- Communicate with teachers to have homework sections photocopied as a short-term reprieve.