Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Editorial | Mr Reid, in the real sense

Published:Tuesday | May 10, 2016 | 5:26 AM

RUEL REID has been sounding a little like Fenton Ferguson, the previous administration’s hapless, gaffe-prone minister, whose muffed attempt at policy spin made him a figure of ridicule and bequeathed to the Jamaica lexicon the phrase “not babies in the real sense”, to describe 19 premature babies who died from hospital-contracted infections.

Mr Reid, the education minister, who has been defending his policy to eliminate auxiliary fees at secondary schools, argued in the text of a speech that he delivered to principals last Friday that if the 88 per cent of the schools that now asked parents to pay an average J$5,000 a year “were to get an additional $7,500 per student, there would be no need for auxiliary fees, in the real sense”. Except that it doesn’t seem that there is likely, in the real sense, to be much of a change in policy, but a change in nomenclature, a bit of confusion, and a false sense of security among some parents that Jamaican high schools will now be well funded.

CAMPAIGN PROMISE

Currently, the Jamaican Government, which pays the salaries of teachers, on average provides the island’s state-supported secondary schools with an annual subvention of J$11,500 per student. This is insufficient to run the institutions, so principals have come up with creative ways to fund the shortfall. Mostly, though this is not formally mandated by the education ministry or legally enforceable by the schools, they have charged fees for a plethora of services, reaching, according to Mr Reid, a high of J$47,000 at a handful of high schools with students of well-to-do parents.

The removal of these fees was a campaign promise of the new Jamaica Labour Party administration on the grounds that they placed pressure on poor students and that, as Mr Reid said in a radio interview last Friday, the compliance rate was a “measly” 49 per cent. The Government, therefore, will increase its subvention per student by nearly two-thirds to J$19,000 a year.

SCHOOLS COULD STILL ASK FOR MONEY

Despite the “measly” compliance rate for auxiliary fees, this does not mean that parents won’t, or can’t, in the future, be tapped for money. It is just that schools will have to find a new name for it.

“The schools can still ask parents to contribute to their development plans but through parents’ contributions and not called auxiliary fees,” Mr Reid said in the prepared text of that speech to principals. At a subsequent press conference, the education minister encouraged parents with the ability to “contribute” to do so to “facilitate the enhancement of your school”.

While Minister Reid has said the average increase will be $7,500, the allocation would not be uniform, but on the basis of need, which makes sense. But that won’t solve the financing problem in education. Nor is it likely to address the disparities between schools.

It is unlikely that even the principals of the richest, best-performing high schools, where parents pay the most and alumni make substantial contributions, will claim to have enough money to run their schools as they would like.

We are happy that the Government can find an additional J$2 billion to J$4 billion to spend on education. Even at a “measly’ 49 per cent compliance rate for the old auxiliary fees, it would be that much more resources to add to what was there before, and hopefully, won't, in a real sense. be lost.