Saturday 16 December 2017

Sinead Ryan: Textbooks are only on page one of unnecessary expenses

Ruairi Quinn
Ruairi Quinn

YES, of course Ruairi Quinn's big fat carrot of €15m to primary schools that haven't bothered introducing a book rental scheme for parents smacks of rewarding the tardy and non-compliant.

But let's try to get over that and see what's happening underneath the surface.

The minister was fed up with asking nicely and is afraid of wielding the big stick, so he has emptied his pockets with a sigh and told schools to get a grip and start helping their customers and paymasters -- parents.

By September there will be no excuse for your child's school not having a book rental scheme in place, thus saving yours and other families, already hard pressed at that time of year, one of the biggest and most unnecessary costs.

This simple, straightforward and not especially expensive measure has for years been a no-brainer for forward-thinking, progressive schools.

Once the initial costs are covered, it can work like a dream, with the engagement of teachers and parents alike.

Gone are the queues at bookshops, the heart attack-inducing bills and the utter frustration at finding last year's English book is obsolete this year because of a tiny alteration on page 47 which means little brother will have to get a brand new one.

Instead, in the summer, you visit the school, collect a pile of books for your child from a slightly frazzled parents' committee and that's it. Keep them neat, return them and repeat.

Out of date hand-me-downs? Not your problem. Teachers in a quandary over which Irish reader is best? None of your business. The new maths syllabus costs a fortune? Not any more.

Parents pay a set fee to be involved (which, of course they can opt out of if they want their little darling only to have new, clean books) and all the decisions are taken out of your hands.

A returnable deposit is an added incentive to keep them covered and in good condition. Some schools include copybooks and stationery for the price, which cuts down even more on shopping.

The schools that have already introduced their book rental schemes via fundraising efforts, cake sales and dress-down days might be feeling hard done by, but they have already saved enough over the years to have made it worthwhile. Likewise, the schools that have a partial scheme in place but can't apply for these new funds.

But you won't find parents objecting to whatever measure was necessary for recalcitrant schools to step up to the plate.

Best of all, the books are used for at least five years, and you would be hard-pressed to find a single person in the country who objects to that, save the publishing industry which has been pushing 'new' editions on schools and parents with spirited enthusiasm for years.

Who the hell cares if Annie has suddenly taken a shine to apples instead of apricots for a five-year-old learning his alphabet?

What difference does it make if five cakes plus five cakes adds up to 10 cakes instead of using biscuits -- which inexplicably turns out to be so-last-year?

These minor, incomprehensible revisions drive parents nuts when they're forking out for the 'updated' textbook.

That done, can we now turn our minds to a more pressing matter and ask whether it would be a good time to request the demise of the workbook?

Book rental schemes are rendered pointless if parents have to buy a workbook for every subject, precisely because they can't be re-used.

When did copying things down from the board become passe? I know workbooks keep things together, but they are an added expense and utterly wasteful. What's wrong with an old-fashioned copybook?

Having got a grip on textbooks, let's try to avoid exchanging one problem -- and one added expense -- for another.

(The Herald)

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