Wednesday 23 January 2019

Sinead Ryan: Hard-pressed mums being held to ransom by 'updated' school texts

The children haven't even broken up for the summer holidays yet and already parents are tearing their hair out in frustration at the costs already piling up for the next school year.

All those books they carefully kept covered and clean, ready for the next child down the line will be redundant. Instead, they'll be expected to fork out hundreds for a brand new set -- not because the curriculum's changed, but because a picture on page 23 has been updated.

It's ridiculous, and it makes parents' mouths foam with outrage. In fairness, it drives teachers mad too. The only people who benefit from the regurgitation of perfectly good books into new, updated models, are publishers and printers. These days, with everyone trying to keep costs to a minimum and the planet greener, it seems the re-printing of new editions of school books are costing us a fortune on both counts.

The insidious practice of printing "new" books in place of ones that taught exactly the same level children last year is completely unnecessary and now, the Vincent de Paul, which has long campaigned on the issue has got 7,000 parents to sign up to its petition prior to meeting Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to get compulsory book rental schemes introduced.

Already commonplace in Europe where parents wouldn't dream of shelling out for brand new books every year and working extremely well in many schools currently, it's a no brainer. One school in Cork which introduced such a scheme this year saved €30,000 for itself.


Of course it's important to make sure that kids learn up to date material, but how much really do Geography and Maths change in a few years? And for those books where, ahem, 'errors' mistakenly appear, well then why not issue errata sheets to be inserted into the book, or sticky labels which are just applied over the old material? It's not rocket science.

It baffles me why we're still dealing with this issue. Nobody can offer a clear, comprehensive, believable reason why books cannot be used for five to eight years, before being updated.

Primary school books are the worst by far with an alarming increase in single-use workbooks. A new school book was a rare and treasured thing in the 70s and 80s. So what's changed?

This is the month when back to school grants are paid by the Department of Social Protection for families facing hardship. They don't go far: just €200 for a primary school child and €305 for a secondary pupil. Barely enough to buy shoes and uniforms without having to pile books on top of it. Some of the Leaving Cert texts are well over €30 each. That's bonkers when you have two or more kids at school.

It's estimated that one student's book requirements for secondary school amount to €3,200 -- a terrifying figure. Add in a couple more kids, all with suddenly out-dated editions, and it's just madness.

And where do the books go after a year? In the bin most likely, since they can't be reused. But who says so? Book publishers, it seems. Certainly not the parents, or the teachers, or the boards of management, or indeed, the Minister. How can one group hold the rest of us to ransom?

Surely the approach should be for the Government to buy all the school books and decree that, unless there's a fundamental, audited reason why a text has to change, then it's good for at least five years.


They currently give book grants to schools, but how about restricting the grant to those that provide a rental scheme?

That way, the onus is on the board of management (who most likely favour the idea) and parents will push for (and probably help via the parents' associations) its implementation.

It's too late next year. We need to sort this now -- before parents are trudging once again with an open wallet to expensive book stores.

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