Former Education Minister in the 2008-13 Tillman Thomas-led National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government, Senator Franka Bernadine has underscored the long-term benefits that can come through the provision of free schoolbooks to students.
Sen. Bernadine who was speaking at a political meeting of Congress at Loretto, St. John’s last week Wednesday said the free school initiative, one of the success stories of NDC, has been watered down by the current rulers with only a few schools continuing with it.
She recalled that two years ago, the now ruling New National Party (NNP) of Dr. Keith Mitchell which formed the government after the February 19, 2013 General Elections, scrapped the free school books programme and promised to have it replaced with Tablets to the students.
She told the gathering that the problem encountered by parents of having to dig deep into their pockets to find money to purchase books for their children was solved five years ago by the Thomas administration.
Congress’ philosophy of providing free school books was to ensure that no child was excluded from accessing “free education” in Grenada on the grounds that his parents cannot afford to purchase the books.
The former Education Minister provided the meeting with the cost of some of the schoolbooks between 2010 and 2011.
The cost of a Form One Home Economics Book was $73.60, a Caribbean Home Economic Action Book Two also cost $73.60 while Needlework for Schools, and Needlework for Schools for Third Form both cost $112.57.
Sen. Bernadine believes that instead of the NNP Government distributing vouchers for school uniform and other supplies, their first priority should have been providing books and food for the students, and uniform second.
“It is the information in the head that gets the CXC and the skills training, not the uniform and the money,” she told the gathering.
According to the former Education Minister, funding has been lost for the two kitchens in St. George’s and St. Andrew’s which supplied meals to the schools.
She said a country cannot advance without the education system being built.
The former Education Minister stressed that education is one of the main ways out of poverty in the Eastern Caribbean.
Deputy Political Leader Joseph Andall also chimed in on the schoolbooks programme during the Loretto public meeting.
Andall who is a former Lecturer at the TA Marryshow Community College indicated that apart from providing meals, transportation and uniform for the children, it would cost parents who have six children in school almost five thousand dollars for books.
He said out of a genuine concern for educating and lifting the standard of living of poor people by providing a better and brighter future for the young people of the country, Congress introduced the free school books programme.
“Nobody had to go dogging in front of any politician office or door, nobody had to go and beg for vouchers. Once their child was enrolled in a school, public or private, your child was entitled to the books, and all it cost you was a $25.00 (for handling fee),” he said.
The NDC Deputy Political Leader also spoke of the “Energy For The Poor Programme” which was another social safety net measure introduced by the former government.
He said many people do not have the luxury of turning on a cylinder of gas and lighting a stove.
However, he said the NDC Government ensured that through the programme that poor people no longer had to burn coals to cook food.
The programme provided a stove and six months supply of the 20-lb cylinder of gas to the most vulnerable.
Andall dismissed statements coming from NNP that NDC does not love poor people.
“When they (NNP) say that we don’t love poor people, they lie. What we do not love is poverty, that is why we equipped our people to get out of poverty,” he said.