The challenge associated with back to school shopping confronts some parents and guardians as public schools reopen next week. Interviewed by some sections of the press, some have observed that it appears prices of uniforms in particular are higher than before, and are opting to purchase less than they normally would. It is true that there are several financial institutions which offer back to school loans to allow parents the opportunity to purchase all the necessary items, but this is not always possible to access, especially those who work casually.
Barbadian governments over the years have ensured that free education is a right, and not a privilege; that even a child who comes from the most humble of living conditions is guaranteed an education. In one instance, this means secondary school textbooks are passed down to other classes in the textbook loan scheme system, which greatly offsets overall costs.
This free education that many have benefitted from in the post-Independence era must be maintained – and even expanded. This need is all the more apparent, with talk of hundreds of public workers being “displaced” from their jobs and with an admission that the island will be in a period of austerity for some time.
In an age of donor fatigue, it can be quite tiring to hear of another initiative to help others, but if we are to continue our Barbadian heritage, it must be with an agreed commitment to always ensure the most vulnerable among us do not lack for social services, such as education – and by being our brother’s keeper, by helping those who may have fallen on hard times and circumstances.
To that end, it is essential to support charities that try their best to assist parents, guardians and children. Last month, the Executive Director of Variety, Donnah Russell, noted that despite providing approximately 350 uniform packages through its Auntie Olga Memorial School Aid programme, the charity had received more requests from parents for assistance with school supplies. In addition, she notes that they partner with hotels and visitors who bring in stationery that is then distributed to children, in this case, “over 500 stationery packages for other children”.
We believe that programmes such as that of Variety’s can be expanded to touch all schools across the island, and that parents within schools can be asked to provide help wherever possible. For example, though primary school books are often written in by students, there are a few primary level school texts that can be recycled in the junior schools to avoid parents having to purchase brand new items, and ensure the books are being well used. Textbooks such as Junior English Revise and children’s dictionaries, unused or barely used pencils, and other such gently worn supplies for instance, can be passed down after Class 4 children have gone off to secondary school, as they will now have new book lists and requirements for that level. In addition, there can be a programme started where uniforms that have been outgrown and gently worn can be collected and distributed to parents in urgent need so that their children can go to school correctly outfitted like their peers.
These shouldn’t just be “by the way” programmes or one-off initiatives; they should be done consistently to ensure that all have the opportunity to take part in one of the best education systems in the world.