Youth service trainees make their mark in textbook drive
At least 290 National Youth Service (NYS) trainees are turning the pages of success, in dealing with the weaknesses which exist in the procurement and distribution of textbooks at high, junior high and all-age schools.
So far, they have helped the Media Services Unit of the Ministry of Education to collect for redistribution some $350 million worth of government-issued textbooks, packed in storerooms in schools islandwide, under the Textbook Management and Support Aides Programme.
The programme aims to ensure that textbooks provided for schools are properly distributed and accounted for, in support of the National Textbook Rental Scheme. The scheme provides free textbooks in major subject areas for students in grades seven to 11 in high schools, and for grades seven to nine students at primary and junior high schools and all-age schools.
Cabinet had approved two contracts valued at almost $300 million for the procurement and distribution of textbooks for the 2011-12 academic year under the scheme.
Acting executive director of the NYS, Alan Beckford, said the Textbook Management and Support Aides programme was designed after the NYS was approached by the ministry to develop a plan to train students to assist with the management of the textbook process in schools.
"We thought it was a great idea. The results have been tremendous so far," he said, adding that the administrators of many schools wished they could have had more than one NYS trainee assigned to their bookrooms. The trainees' one-year stint, which began in April at schools, should be completed in March 2012.
According to Beckford, successful participants received the HEART Trust/NTA National Council on Technical Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET) Level II Certification, along with the NYS Certification of Participation. He said the certificate will open many doors for them, as they will be able to pursue careers as library assistants, archivists, cataloguers, information architects, as well as computer data entry clerks.
"We want to ensure that our students have a good experience, so that they could get work experience of volunteerism and national service, as well as qualification in inventory and logistics management at a level two, which will assist them to go into the work world at entry level positions or allow them to go on to HEART institutions," he said.
NYS trainee Chimoy Dillon is one of the young persons who participated in the one-month support aides training programme, which included core (behavioural, personal, life career and character development) and specialised (business administration) curricula.
"The National Youth Service has helped me a lot. It has developed my skills, it has pushed me so much and I'm truly grateful for it. I am also helping to develop the country and that actually impacts me a lot, knowing that I am helping the youth today and I can make a change by doing my work," she said.
Chimoy is working as a librarian assistant/inventory logistics personnel at the Holy Childhood High School in St Andrew, where she has been organising and monitoring the textbooks loaned to students.
Her workday begins about 7:30 a.m. and ends at about 3 p.m. Apart from keeping an inventory of the books and identifying those needed by students, Chimoy is developing a new computer system, to enable the school to keep account of the number of books loaned and returned by students and to state the condition that they are in.
Another NYS trainee, Tashi Grant, who holds a similar position at the Penwood High School in Kingston, said she enjoyed working among the books, since she loves to read.
"It has been good so far. It has been a learning experience for me and I do enjoy what I do. It is different from what I thought it would be," she said, while admitting that she was under the impression, before the training, that the job would entail sitting among the books with nothing really to do.
"When I was introduced to this, I noted it was different, it was new and I liked it," she said with a smile.
Lauding the NYS and the Ministry of Education for creating the initiative, Tashi said it was a great way to keep track of the books.
"It helps in nation building. You can save money on the amount of books that are purchased per year, and use that money elsewhere in the Ministry of Education," she added.
Aba Polson, vice-principal of Immaculate Conception High School and supervisor of the administrator with responsibility for the book-rental process, lauded the work of the NYS trainees, including students, in trying to ensure the efficient inventory of some 16,000 to 18,000 textbooks at the school.
"They did what we wanted to do, but just did not have the manpower to do it ... I know exactly what is in the book store. I know how many books we have and the condition they are in. They are doing an excellent job," she added.
Since last year and during the summer holidays, she said the school had been engaged in the sorting of books, and taking out the ones that cannot be used again.
"Fortunately for us, with the NYS workers, we had a massive inventory done in the book store, and so we know exactly what we have there, so we can remove the ones that are not working and replace them," she noted.
She said a new bar-coding system has been introduced to effectively receive and distribute the books, adding that the bar code on the texts are scanned and stored.
Polson stated that before the introduction of the programme, some of the books were in poor condition. In addition, there were too many books with the same titles, and one was not clear as to the quantity and type of texts that were needed, due to the lack of inventory.
Christopher Graham, manager of the Media Services Unit, Ministry of Education, said the decision to start the programme was based on an assessment done by the ministry, which revealed a number of distribution gaps and weaknesses in the system.
"In an attempt to improve it, we recognised that the textbook coordinators and administrators in the schools at the secondary level were burdened with the responsibility of the management and administration of the National Textbook Rental Scheme," he said.
As a result, the ministry was eager to work with the NYS in identifying and training young people in an effort to improve the administration and management of the textbooks.
"In so doing, we forged a strategic alliance with the National Youth Service by identifying young people who were trained to provide the kind of support to the textbook administrations at the local level," he said.
significant administrative support
He also points out that they provide significant administrative support, allowing coordinators to focus on other objectives of the programme.
Since the programme started, the ministry has seen several cost-saving benefits under the programme. He points out that the unit was able to redistribute textbooks that were returned, satisfying the needs of other schools before books were purchased for them.
"The textbook coordinators really lauded the administration for providing that support, because it made it so much easier for them and at a time when we are trying to be fiscally prudent," he remarked.
Among the successes was the timely redistribution of the excess books to other schools, making it possible for the unit to provide all the books requested by school administrators.
"We were able to provide all the books that the schools requested on time this year, so we really didn't have a situation where schools started and they were without books, or students didn't have the books that were needed," he added.
He said the ministry had started talks with the NYS to identify another group of NYS participants to replace the current group.
"We are now looking at another cadre of individuals who will take the places of those persons who are going to be leaving in March 2012," he says, adding that there are plans to train about 300 persons, depending on the budget for the programme.
"We have already initiated the discussions and we have put plans in place. We are refining our textbook administrator's guide, and we will be reviewing this and circulating it to ensure that when the new batch of participants come on board they will have information available to them, in a way where it will inform how they administer the programme at the institutional level," he said.