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COMMENT: Time to remove cost barriers to education

Monday, 2nd September, 2019 7:59am
COMMENT: Time to remove cost barriers to education
COMMENT: Time to remove cost barriers to educationView More Images

Marcella Stakem

IN THE week before our schools reopened, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) took approximately 250 to 300 calls per day from worried parents.

Calls for help to the society from families struggling with the cost of education increased by four percent this summer. This increase comes after our charity reported a 20 percent jump in requests for help with school costs in 2018. The smaller rise in calls this year suggests that the increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance in 2019 has lifted some of the pressure.

However, with requests increasing for a third year in a row, we believe much greater investment in the education system is needed so that costs aren’t a barrier to participation at primary and secondary level.

We put forward a number of proposals to immediately alleviate much of the financial stress on parents in a submission made last month to a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills.

Two of the SVP proposed actions that would reduce the costs of primary and secondary education are:

Make school books free across all primary and secondary schools. Begin with a €20 million investment in Budget 2020 to provide free books to all primary schoolchildren.

End the voluntary contribution system in all non-fee paying primary and secondary schools.

SVP is also asking that the Department of Education and Skills establish a working group to examine the use of digital devices in schools, including the cost impact on parents.

Access to education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty but if children don’t have the right materials for learning or if they feel different from their peers, that has a really big impact on their progression and experiences in school.

We strongly believe that all children should have access to quality, free primary and secondary education.

In 2017, SVP spent €3.6 million on education, supporting children and young people at pre-school, primary, secondary and third level, as well as further education and training.

If school books were free, it would significantly reduce the financial stress placed on parents and ensure that all pupils, irrespective of the household income, could access the educational resources required to participate and progress with their education. The same benefits would apply by eliminating voluntary contributions.

In more recent times, our members have noted an increase in requests from parents where the use and purchase of digital devices is mandatory.

In most cases there is no financial support in place to help parents meet the costs of equipment and software which can be between €500 and €800.

The underinvestment in our education system, at both primary and secondary level, limits the potential of children and puts significant pressure on low income families. It is imperative that long-term measures are taken now to ensure that the current and future cohorts of students can participate in school on an equal footing, regardless of their parents’ economic status.

If we really want all children and young people to have access to good opportunities, we have to stop making cost a barrier to participation.

Marcella Stakem is Policy Officer with the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

Marcella Stakem

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