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Blame the parents… For pricey basic school graduations

Published:Friday | June 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMTyrone Thompson
Members of the graduating class of 2009 at the Job Lane Seventh-day Baptist Early Childhood Institution.

Some basic schools across the island are forcing parents to fork out as much as $9,000 to pay for the graduation of their six-year-olds despite pleas from the Education Ministry not to charge exorbitant fees for the exercise.

A Sunday Gleaner probe has found that it now costs a low of $1,000 and a high of $9,000 for graduation packages for basic schools, a charge that continues to anger Education Minister Ronald Thwaites.
“We don't think there should be any elaborate graduation at that age.  These things are extravagant to the point of being meaningless, and  there is no need for such things at a basic school level.  It means very little in real terms and we deplore the level of expenditure that parents are asked to put up,” Thwaites told The Sunday Gleaner.
“You compare that with the graduation exercises of Shortwood Teachers College, which is a degree granting tertiary institution - graduating with a degree is a meaningful and conclusive state of ones life - and the entire graduation at that level costs $6,000.
“Then you have basic schools creating a false sense of achievement for six-year-olds, charging $7,000 and the majority of them have no certification, some have not even achieved the minimum school leaving standard, so what exactly are these expensive drawn out ceremonies celebrating?”
Last Monday the Education Ministry repeated its plea for schools to keep a lid on the cost for graduations but administrators of basic schools who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner argued that the cost is not unreasonable.
According to the administrators who spoke with our news team, the graduation package is often heavily discounted as they seek to give parents and children the most worthwhile experience at the best price.
“We know times are hard but we try our best to negotiate to get the best prices, but when a child can get pictures, a plaque and a certificate as well as dinner for just $7,000 in Jamaica, that is good deal,” said one educator from a St Catherine based basic school who asked not to be named.
“You also have to bear in mind that included in our costs are things like renting the venue, decorating it, buying a little token for the invited speakers and invited guests, so hosting a graduation is not cheap undertaking at all.”
According to the educator, parents are often the ones demanding a graduation ceremony with all the frills for their little ones.
“We try to hold meetings with them and let them know the costs and try to work within their budgets, so they know what is going on with the costs. But I will tell that a lot of the times parents will tell you that they can not afford to pay school fees or to buy the books or equipment for their children, yet they will find the money for the graduation.
“So a lot of the times we tell them that unless they pay outstanding fees, the child wont graduate, but we have to relent because ultimately it’s about the children and we are not doing this for ourselves or to make any money just to make the children feel appreciated,” argued the educator.
However Myzanne Williams, who claimed she recently had to pay $9,000 for her five-year-old daughter to take part in her school’s graduation exercises, said the school refused to reduce the costs despite pleas from parents who argued that it would be difficult for them to afford it.
“The principal said it included gown rental, corsages, a trophy, finger foods for the children and venue rental.  They told us only mothers and fathers were invited to attend and if other relatives wanted to attend they would have to pay a thousand dollars, because it was a private venue,” charged Williams.
“We told her that it would be cheaper to keep the ceremony at a church in the community, where we wouldn't have to pay but she said that she didn't want people from the community to come inappropriately dressed so it would not be held here.”
According to Williams, she decided that she would not send her daughter to the ceremony but she relented when her mother stepped in to pay the fee.
“My mother said she wanted to see her graduate and take part, so she stepped in and paid for it, because that is too much money for me to spend on a graduation,” said Williams.
Thwaites noted that Williams’ case was not unique as often times parents tended to pay these massive graduation fees because they themselves craved the elaborate ceremonies.
“We do fully recognise that it is the parents who want these ceremonious occasions at great expense to themselves, but we need to have our priorities straight and be modest.
“The ministry doesn't want to come down and make some definitive statement that it shall not happen, because we don't want to govern that way, we want people to have a right sense of priorities and reasonable with themselves,” said Thwaites.

Samples of basic schools' graduation cost

-Porus Infant School  $1,000  (Includes: certificate, corsage, and dinner)

-Flemmings Basic School $1,500  (Includes: gown, certificate, and package picture)

-Power of Faith Basic School    $3,500 (Includes: gown, pictures, and certificate)

-Bamboo Basic School  $4,500   (Includes: plaque, medal, certificate, gown, corsage, and dinner)

-Christ the King Basic School    $4500   (Includes: pictures, gown, corsage and certificate)

-Eltham Infant School     $4,500   (Includes: gown, package, pictures, refreshment, corsage, certificate, plaque and a token for the guest speaker)

-Campden Basic School  $5,000 (Includes: package picture, corsage, certificate, and gown)

-Catherine Hall Basic School $5,000  (Includes: corsage, certificate, souvenir, gown, and package picture)

-Happy Venture Basic School $5,000  (Includes: gown, certificate, package picture, and a trip)

-Ewarton Basic School   $5,500 (Includes: gown, plaque, certificate, corsage, package picture, and gift)

-Adastra Gardens Basic School $5,500 (Includes: gift, plaque, package picture, certificate, and gown

-Auburn Basic School  $6,000   (Includes: token, pictures, gown, certificate, dinner, and corsage)

-Faith Basic School  $6,000  (Includes: gown, corsage, plaque, certificate, package picture, and gift)

-Church of Prophecy Basic School $7,000   (Includes: certificate, plaque, picture package, refreshments, and corsage)

-Ascot Basic School  $7,000  (Includes: package pictures, certificate and dinner)

-Richmond Park Basic School   $8000 (Includes: dinner, gown, corsage, certificate, package pictures)

-Little Einstein Basic School*  $9,000 (Includes:  catering gifts, package pictures, souvenirs, graduation trophies and certificate)

* Price for 2014.  This year’s price not yet determined.