Former Minister of Education, Senator Franka Bernadine is not amused over the latest attempt made by the government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell to discredit the free school books programme that was initiated by the former National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration.
The programme which came into being two months after the NDC won the July 2008 general elections, provided school children with their books at a cost of $25 in order to help ease the financial burden on parents.
However, from since its inception, the New National Party (NNP) while in opposition and now in government has been condemning the initiative.
The latest onslaught came last week Tuesday from the Minister of Education Anthony Boatswain during the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing.
Minister Boatswain reported that the school books programme was plagued with financial irregularities and lack of proper managerial supervision.
In response, Sen. Bernadine outlined in detail the measures taken by Congress in administering the programme and how it functioned.
Sen. Bernadine who appeared on a radio talk show programme said the program was administered by a team of people drawn from the community including Carriacou and Petite Martinique who worked alongside the then Permanent Secretary Michael Pierre in the Ministry of Education who is now the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“They put in place the structures and systems so that the programme could move forward,” she remarked.
Sen. Bernadine disclosed that the first year of the programme was financed by funds from PetroCaribe to the tune of $5M.
Referring to the free school books scheme as an excellent programme of the NDC government, the former Education Minister stressed that there was nothing unusual about it.
She said the programme was based on the philosophy that no child should be excluded from accessing free education simply because the parent or guardian cannot afford to buy the textbooks.
Sen. Bernadine stated that by creating that social safety net, it would have provided more disposable income to be spent on other areas of the family.
The former education minister spoke of how the programme was ridiculed by people aligned to the NNP.
She pointed fingers at people residing in Victoria and Carriacou who put up the most resistance in not accepting the free school books.
“Victoria gave a lot of trouble initially, the parents wouldn’t take the books. They were so politicised coming out of the 2008 experience and said that the books were NDC books and they preferred to do without the books and have the child do without the education and run the risk of stepping over and being seen as an NDC,” she said.
Sen. Bernadine noted that the issues “cooled down” somewhat when one of the school principals in the area spoke to the Member of Parliament, NNP’s Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen and explained to her the importance of encouraging the parents to take the books for the children.
She accused the Education Officer in Carriacou of being more involved in political maneuvering rather than focusing on the book programme.
“We had to call in the Carriacou representative and read the riot act to say for this to function you have to follow what the regulations are,” she said.
Sen. Bernadine said now that her successor is saying that the book programme was riddled with problem is merely a lack of willingness to move forward with the scheme.collection of funds in the programme.