Fri | Oct 15, 2021

Growth & Jobs | Remittances assist in purchase of devices for online learning

Published:Tuesday | September 14, 2021 | 12:07 AM

THE BACK-TO-SCHOOL period, late July to early September, is normally a busy one for Marsha Lewis. During that period, the 32-year-old entrepreneur uses the funds her mother sends from overseas to purchase school supplies for her two siblings.

This year, she will purchase a laptop for her siblings as opposed to school uniforms and bags.

“Last year, I bought tablets for my sisters; however, the storage in the devices is now full,” she said. “Therefore, I asked my mother to send more funds so I can purchase a laptop for them this time around because it will have more memory and will be a bit easier to use when it comes to doing their assignments. With the start date for face-to-face classes still uncertain, my mother and I thought it would be best for them that we purchase a laptop.”

She added that the funds received would also purchase textbooks, stationery, and credit for data plans.

“Before last year, data plans were not that high on the back-to-school preparation list, however, it has to be now. I am thinking of getting access to broadband home Internet service because it will be much cheaper in the long run,” she added.

Economist Kemmehe Lozer points out that the pandemic has caused a change in the purchasing habits of persons who receive remittances during the back-to-school period.

“Before the pandemic, those funds would purchase books, bags, uniforms, pay tuition, and take care of other back-to-school needs. Since most classes are still online, some of the funds are now used to purchase items to facilitate online learning. Remittances play a major role in the education of our children as without it, many would not be able to attend school,” he noted.

LIMITED ACCESS

Lozer pointed to a recent study by Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), which indicated that a significant number of students are being left behind because of the limited access to the Internet and computer devices.

He added that the back-to-school period was second only to Christmas when it comes to remittances received from abroad.

“In July 2020, for example, remittances inflows were US$274.7 million for July and US$256.4 million for August. Only in December, with more than US$282 million, there was a higher inflow. It would be interesting to note what percentage of this was used to purchase items to facilitate online learning,” he said, adding that studies could be conducted, at a later date, to determine this.

Horace Hines, general manager, JN Money Services, owners and operators of the JN Money Brand, affirms that in addition to the important role that remittances play in education, money-service operators, such as JN Money, have contributed to the educational development of the nation’s children by providing scholarships and donating equipment and devices.

“As a company, JN Money recognises the role which education plays in national development. We also recognise that remittance plays an important role, and, as such, over the years, we have assisted students and parents during the back-to-school period. Last year, we donated tablets to several students because the pandemic had impacted face-to-face learning. We will continue to provide assistance where needed, especially during the pandemic, to assist with the education of our nation’s children,” he noted.

When it comes to purchasing devices for educational purposes, many parents sometimes purchase these items on the recommendation of family and friends and not necessarily within the education ministry’s guidelines. Forty-year-old electrician Brian Richards explained that he used the remittances received from abroad to purchase devices for his children to attend online classes based on the advice of his neighbour. However, he noted that he encountered problems as the school year progressed.

“By February, their memory had run out, and they were also slow in terms of processing the information,” he said. “I had to find creative ways for my children to attend online classes. My brother, who sends funds to help out with back-to-school shopping, was not pleased.”

Latoya Halstead, communications director, Consumer Affairs Commission, advises that parents follow the guidelines outlined by the Government when purchasing devices for online learning.

“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has provided specifications for devices to be purchased. The Commission, therefore, recommends that these guidelines are followed,” she advised. “When purchasing devices, ensure that reasonable warranty is offered. Also, get the warranty in writing, and ensure that the vendor is established and reputable, whether online or in-store.”

“Consumers should also carry out the necessary checks to ensure that the device is working prior to leaving the store. They should also familiarise themselves with various brands of devices that are on the market, their quality in terms of longevity, robustness, and cost. In addition, they should be informed about the difference between a reconditioned device and a new one,” she added.

Halstead further stated that parents should also be vigilant when shopping for back-to-school items.

“Products and services are expensive, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic, and the disposable income of many households has been significantly reduced. As such, the CAC is urging parents and guardians to ensure that they are informed prior to making some purchases to reduce the need for redress,” she stated.