Bully boy publishers need to learn -- we won't pay for school books we don't need

Sinead Ryan

I'M sure many parents like me could only watch in awe, and through frustrated tears, when they saw the news reports of one lucky school whose kids all got issued with brand new, state of the art iPads for the start of school year this week.

It wasn't so much the new technology that caused the wistful angst -- rather the fact that all the big, hefty, monstrously expensive school books were neatly contained on one lightweight tablet. For just €150.

Given that most parents are paying out double that to equip one child for secondary school, it's a massive saving and, these days, that matters more than ever.


So just why are we still revisiting this age-old problem? Why the hell are books still costing so much, and why are publishers intent on issuing new editions at the drop of a hat and for no discernible reason than they feel like an update? Well, here's an update for you: we're sick of it. It's outrageous and we won't put up with it any longer.

It's hard to pinpoint the exact year it changed, but it was probably sometime during the now long-forgotten boom years -- the ones only publishers are still enjoying.

Just when did the last hand-me-down book exchange happen? I certainly remember them for my kids' primary school up to the end of the 90s. After that, it seemed to be all 'workbooks' and phonics and new maths and things that suddenly couldn't, oddly, be taught the way they used to be.

Doesn't seem to me like it made a whole heap of difference -- exam results haven't changed, maths is still dire -- so what was that all about?

Well, it was about publishers making profits, of course. It still is.

A man from the St Vincent de Paul was on the radio yesterday being asked if people were really going hungry to pay the mortgage. No, he said, that wasn't the biggest problem. Back to school costs were.

That's what was really getting parents stuck in a rut, going to the moneylender, getting into debt. School books -- and the insistent, unnecessary updated editions are a big part of that.

Remember when we were children we used photocopies of pages, rolled off on giant blue inking machines? When changes were deemed necessary in a book, they came on an errata sheet which we dutifully copied in to the relevant page?


We didn't have 'workbooks' -- we were expected to actually get out a copy and pencil and write. Teacher wrote it on the board, you copied it down. It helped the subject and writing skills at the same time.

Tell me then, at what point, that was considered a bad way of doing things?

When publishers hit on a new revenue stream to keep them in profit for years -- the once-off, disposable workbook. What a load of nonsense.

The new Minister for Education is making a lot of noise about this. Talk is all very well, but it doesn't help. Ruairi Quinn says he wants to see more book rental schemes in schools: good for you, Ruairi, but if you REALLY want that, how about making it mandatory, eh? How about refusing capitation grants to a school until they bring one in? You see, there's the difference between talk and walk.

Mr Quinn is also "talking" with major book publishers, who said this week they "wouldn't be making any rash decisions" about bringing down prices. Well, how about issuing an edict which only allows schools to deal with publishers who HAVE brought down prices?

It is simply not good enough for a grown minister to be begging and pleading and hoping things will change with the bully boy publisher of the playground who insists on getting his own way.

And teachers: think of the extra money parents would have for cake sales, voluntary contributions and raffles if it wasn't being spent on nonsensical changes to school books.