Like religion (or at least a belief in God), education is important. But also like religion, education is being shamelessly exploited for financial gain at the detriment of many (especially poorer) people in society.
I was really ignorant of this from the angle of education, as it was only after several recent conversations with seasoned teachers and parents preparing their children for the new school term, did I become cognisant of the different ways in which the education of children is being exploited: textbooks, lessons, uniforms, fundraisers, donations and a lot of self-serving educators.
At both the primary and secondary school levels, it begins with the book lists; the prices of the many books required for a primary school education is baffling to me. The substantive content of the English language or mathematics have not changed since I was in primary school in the 90s, so why do the text books? Is there some new way to construct sentences or to do calculations that I am unaware of? If that is not the case, it seems as though publishers are prolonging the life of their textbooks by taking the same material, making minor changes and switching things around so the same information appears on different pages in the “new edition.”
In addition to forcing parents to buy these “new editions” with all the old content, some schools monopolise the buying process.
For example, a primary school in the Diego Martin area directs all parents to purchase books at a particular book store in Curepe. How and why is this even allowed? It would be very interesting to know what the true underlying relationship is between the owner of the book store and the principal of that school. And just when you thought the only expense was the exorbitantly priced textbooks, there is a uniform for every occasion at the school and transportation in one of those private vans is increasing by the term. In my time, using public transportation was fairly reliable and definitely safe for both male and female students. Nowadays, no parent who can afford otherwise, allows their female children to travel even to the nearest school, and who can really blame these private school vans for cashing in on the escalating crime rate?
The secondary level is no different. I saw booklists with prices for two “prestige” schools in Port-of-Spain, and the books for one form two student at a faith-based institution was in excess of $3,000. Three grand for textbooks! The other non-faith-based school had some of its books provided by the Government and, still, the costs weren’t far off. The provision of free textbooks by the Government was one of the first things the current Minister of Education decided to cut and since then, he has been slashing funding to education like a man possessed. The offering of after-school lessons needs to be monitored closely because it is exploitation in its purest sense. Suddenly, it seems as though lessons are being offered everywhere and by everybody in every subject area. It really is akin to those doctors at the general hospitals who refer patients to their private practice to rip them off on the outside.
Why exactly do so many children need after-school lessons? Which begs the question: are teachers not teaching during the day? Lessons used to be a one-on-one, more personal experience, but these classes are now as big as the regular classes at school, so what is the extra cost for? Why can the curriculum be taught properly at lessons, but not at school? Figure that one out.
Now, as we should all know, the secondary school system is two-tiered: there are the fully funded Government schools like many of the junior and senior secondary schools (call it what you like now), and the Government-assisted faith-based schools like colleges and convents. Yet, with the Government subvention, parents are being asked to purchase paper and ink for printers, and apparently become an Office Depot for the school.
Apparently, some principals are now being overly frugal with Government subvention to highlight their ability to “save the ministry money” while parents carry the burden. Now we understand the “coincidence” as to why the children of affluent and influential people in our society end up at a select few colleges and convents, which also “coincidentally” explains why those schools are top class in all aspects.
Education is now as big a business as having a church, and it is sad that the people most affected by the exploitation are the ones who deserve the most assistance.