Sat | Apr 4, 2020

Giving up not an option! - Dental student battles financial stress to complete degree

Published:Friday | February 21, 2020 | 2:23 PMJason Cross

At 38 years old, Margo Gordon is struggling to find funding to complete a dentistry degree and balancing that with her duties as mother of three and wife.

Her biggest desire right now is to finish school, which she said would afford her children, ages 10, four, and two, a smoother path through life than she had been afforded.

The University of Technology (UTech) fourth-year student told The Gleaner that many persons pursuing dentistry have been facing serious financial challenges, with limited scholarship opportunities for them. The tuition fee is more than $2 million per annum.

Gordon had previously worked with the Southern Regional Health Authority but had to quit her job to pursue her career choice. The transportation cost to get to UTech’s College of Oral Health Sciences on Arthur Wint Drive in St Andrew has been costly for Gordon, who said she had to find thousands of dollars daily to fund the journey from her home in Clarendon.

“I live in Clarendon, and I commute back and forth every day. Taking the bus is an option I tried, but sometimes we leave school at 10 o’clock at nights, and if I leave at that time, I won’t get any vehicle to go home, so I have to be driving. It is my car, but you know I have to pay for gas and toll. Toll is $1, 200 and I have to fill the tank twice a week, so that is $12, 000 for gas.

NO SCHOLARSHIP

“My husband faces the bulk of the responsibility, so we can’t really find that money to pay the tuition. I have tried student loan, but most persons have not been paying, so nobody wants to help as guarantors. Being a mother of three, I can only give my children a future if I finish my degree,” she explained.

Gordon shared that many of her batch-mates have difficulties paying their fees but come to school regardless. Noting that giving up was not an option, Gordon appealed for help as she pointed out that there was a demand for dentists locally. She suggested that scholarship opportunities should be created for students studying dentistry.

“Right now, we are at the stage where we are seeing patients, doing filling, cleaning, extraction and dentures. I have a friend, too, who needs help. Her family cannot afford to send her, but she still comes. We still go to see if something turns around so we can finish our degree. Students in every year group are having financial struggles. There are really no scholarships for dentists. Dentists are needed, but there is no avenue for us to get help,” she lamented.

Sustainable development professor at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Anthony Clayton, said that he has “a lot of sympathy for people” who found themselves in Gordon’s position.

REVAMP TEACHING METHODS

In an interview with The Gleaner, Clayton suggested that old-school methods of teaching at local universities be revamped to drive down tuition costs, especially for expensive programmes. He called for a change in the model where a tutor stands at the front of a class, writing on a board. “That has to be the most inefficient way to get knowledge across to people.”

With the advancement in technology, most teaching material should be placed online, inevitably reducing the cost per student, Clayton said.

He argued that universities should move away from a system whereby the most productive members of staff and those who perform unsatisfactory are paid on the same scale.

“If you actually pay people based on productivity, then people would try to be more productive. The other thing universities can do is move away from the idea of having all your teaching staff on your payroll.

“The alternative is to find someone in the world and offer him a contract to provide just the material for this programme. I do not have to put him or her on my permanent payroll. This is where the university will start to make a lot more use of adjunct staff, and that will help to reduce cost.”

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com