The six years of primary school education in Jamaica is compulsory and “free.” However, for many parents, September of every year causes them tremendous worry and stress. The average primary school child is now costing his/her parent anywhere between JA$30,000 and JA$40,000 (US$300 and US$400) in pre-September costs, and will cost thousands of dollars more during the term. Early childhood education is a huge financial burden for many parents in Jamaica.
Below is a breakdown of what it cost a mother of three (3) residing in St. Catherine, Jamaica to get her daughter prepared for back to school in September 2015. Keep in mind the costs you see below are for one child:
a) Uniform – $6000
b) Books – $10,000
c) Supplies – $2000
c) Shoes – $5,000
d) Bag – $4,000
e) Donation – $4000*
“Donation” is a fee paid to the school as a contribution for the year. It is also referred to as “maintenance fees.” Some schools however make this mandatory and if unpaid, parents at times are not able to receive their child’s end of term/year report. This type of fee is referred to as “auxiliary fees” at the high school level. There are numerous instances of students being turned out of school for non payment of this fee. In the parish of Kingston, auxiliary fees are as high as $25,000.
Children between the ages of 6 and 12 attend primary school. Once in grade 6, they must pass an exam to be admitted into High School. A critical problem is that many bright children pass their exams, but are unable to attend high school because of lack of funds. Many families cannot afford to pay school fees, purchase books, transportation, meals, etc. When students leave secondary school their education ceases to be free.
A single working mom in Kingston painfully tells me how she struggled to come up with all the money needed for her daughter to sit CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council) exams last May – June as well as pay for labs, graduation and other school leaving expenses. She surmized that it cost her over JA$50,000 (US$500). This is a huge expense for a single income home. What then becomes of the children from impoverished homes with little or no income? How are they able to afford to attend school? The answer is; they are not. And as such, these children are forced to stay home and often times made to work from ages as early as five years old.
THE PRICE OF “FREE” EDUCATION
In Jamaica, it is the policy of The Ministry of Education that no child be turned away from public school because of inability to pay fees. The government realized the gaps in the education system and implemented PATHE (Programme for Advancement through Health and Education). One of the aims of PATHE was to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, through regular attendance at school. Students who benefit from the programme must attend classes at least 85 per cent of the times and should be exempted from paying the cost-sharing portion of their education. Students also receive books at no cost from the government on the book programme however there are other textbooks that are assigned to the subject area that can cost thousands.
Schools feel forced to charge auxiliary fees because they are faced with major problems such as struggling to pay their bills and improve their facilities. They need the auxiliary fees to keep the school doors open. But students often times cannot afford these auxilary fees. PATHE has failed the impoversihed children of Jamaica.
These children need our help to attend school. Education in developing countries such as Jamaica is at risk. According to EducateChild.org, the following are issues that most primary and secondary schools face in Jamaica:
Issues affecting Primary Schools:
a) Poor attendance
b) High levels of illiteracy. One out of two primary school children is illiterate.
c) Underachievement is greater among boys
Issues affecting High Schools:
a) Overall attendance is only 65%, leading to chronic underachievement.
b) 40-50% of students in the system are below their grade level (approximately 300,000 children).
c) By Grade 9, hundreds of thousands of students, especially boys, cannot read or write.
d) Many students are functionally illiterate.
e) Only 20% of secondary graduates are qualified for meaningful employment and/or entry into post secondary programs.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Help by donating to our cause: www.idreamyouth.org/donate #giveeducation #doitforthekids