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PM: Don’t deny students their education because of school fees

Published:Tuesday | July 19, 2022 | 12:08 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

WESTERN BUREAU:

PRIME MINISTER Andrew Holness is warning school administrators whose budgets may have been affected by the Government’s no-tuition policy, that they are not to use that situation as an excuse to keep students from attending classes when the 2022-23 academic year begins in September.

Speaking on Sunday at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Central Executive Council meeting, held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in Rose Hall, St James, Holness said that priority must now be placed on ensuring that students can fully return to the physical classroom, after two years of being away from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am asking our schools, especially those who feel that because of the impact of the pandemic and inflation, that they may see a fall-off in their budget and may be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to try to recover this by putting in place exclusionary measures, such as children going back to school in September being told you cannot come to school because your parents didn’t pay the school fee’. That should not, and will not, be allowed to happen. I am saying to us as a country, now is not the time for that,” Holness said sternly.

“I urge those who are thinking like that to consider that for two years the children were not going to school, but the money still came from the Ministry of Education. For two years we have had education loss, and what are you going to say to us now? That the children who are returning to school won’t have an education if they cannot pay for it? Don’t put any obstacles, come September, for the children to come back to school,” the prime minister added.

At the same time, Holness advised that if parents are able to make financial contributions toward their children’s education, they should do so.

MEAN-SPIRITED PARENTS

“The policy is that no child should be turned away from school because of any obligatory fees; and we say to parents who can afford to pay that they should be willing and they should be very eager to make their contribution to the school. There may be some parents, who I consider those parents to be mean-spirited, that because the Government says no child should be turned away, they say, ‘Cho, mi nuh have to pay, gwaan a school.’ I’m saying to those parents, don’t be mean-spirited; still make your contribution to the school,” said Holness.

The Government’s non-mandatory school fee policy first came into effect in September 2016 at the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year, discontinuing the payment of mandatory fees by parents and, instead, accommodating voluntary contributions. At that time, the budgetary support to schools for operational costs was increased from $2.6 billion to $5.3 billion, with the allocation per student moving from $11,000 to $19,000.

However, reports subsequently surfaced that several schools were breaching the Ministry of Education’s directives by demanding mandatory fees from parents.

Last August, Education Minister Fayval Williams reminded school administrators that children are not to be denied their right to an education if payments have not been made.

Meanwhile, concerning back-to-school preparations for the upcoming school term, Holness said that book vouchers and computer tablets will be made available for distribution across various constituencies and divisions, though he did not put forward a budget for that initiative.

“We will be assisting parents as much as possible with book vouchers and other forms of assistance. Regarding the tablet programme, I think we have to now ensure that the members of parliament that have not yet worked out their tablets in terms of having them procured and delivered, that that is done in time for September,” said Holness.

christopher.thomas@gleanerjm.com