Friday 23 August 2019

Children should come before well-paid public servants

The notion that there is free primary education in this country is a bit of a bad joke
The notion that there is free primary education in this country is a bit of a bad joke
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

The notion that there is free primary education in this country is a bit of a bad joke.

Many primary school children will be coming home from school at the moment with long book lists that will require big expenditure by their parents before the new term in September.

We may be just weeks away from the summer holidays, but buying the books is set to cost parents of a fourth-class pupil €85 this summer.

Add in voluntary contributions towards the cost of running the school and the cost of paying for classroom resources, and you soon get to an average cost of €185 a year to kit out a child for primary school.

These additional costs are said by children’s charity Barnardos to most impact on the children of lower-income parents.

The charity has highlighted that there are no national guidelines for how much these additional costs should be and they vary depending on the school a child attends.

And this does not include the cost of uniforms and shoes.

Now a campaign has been launched by Barnardos to persuade the Government to ensure every primary school child gets a truly free education.

It is extraordinary how little emphasis we put on such a crucial investment such as the education of the next generation.

Barnardos has estimated that it would cost €103m to give every child a totally free primary education.

This is the amount of money parents of almost 550,000 primary school pupils are shelling out every year. The sum of €103m is a small sum in the context of the overall cost of running the State.

The charity has calculated that the cost of free primary education is just one-fifth of the €539m allocated for water meters, and a quarter of the cost of the Dublin Convention Centre.

We are apparently able to find €566m over three years to fund pay restoration for public servants. Some would argue that this is a scandalous, voting-buying, waste of scarce resources, given that these workers have job security, are among the

best paid in the State, and have pensions that are the envy of the private sector.

But then children do not vote and their parents are a diverse group with so many concerns that they are unlikely to zero on just one issue, such as the cost of education.

Barnardos boss Fergus Finlay argues that the cost of providing free education is a small investment and could be afforded. It is a matter of priorities.

That is something to consider when we go into the polling station — ironically often housed in the primary school.

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