Even as government contemplates extending the “Because We Care” cash grant to students in the private school system, less than 50% of these private educational institutions have responded to a call issued by the Ministry of Education.
Last week, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration reintroduced and rolled out the cash grant initiative, which was increased to $15,000. Additionally, with the uniform voucher also increasing to $4000, each child in the public school system will receive a total of $19,000 cash.
However, parents of students who attend private schools have been speaking out about the exclusion of those children from the $3.2 billion initiative.
Education Minister Priya Manickchand, during an interview with media operatives on Saturday, explained that the government had contacted the 116 private schools registered in the country for certain information that would help in determining the feasibility of extending the grant to private school students. However, only a small fraction of the institutions responded.
“For two weeks now we’ve been trying to get the numbers from the private schools, like how many people are in the schools, and only 55 out of 116 schools have responded,” Manickchand disclosed.
With the current system in place, public schools submit registers of students to the Education Ministry which aid in the organisation and accountability of the initiative. Minister Manickchand explained that a challenge arises for private schools to submit similar documentations.
“We got from the schools, the registers, their school registers which is a document they keep by law, that was submitted to the regional education departments around the country and those were vetted…so, they were comparatively looked at and the lists approved. So, the only children who can receive are the children on the register. At this stage we do not have registers and do not have the ability to insist on the keeping of registers the way we do in the public sector by private schools,” the Minister explained.
Noting that the challenges are relatively minor, the Education Minister assured that the government will continue to explore the possibility of offering the grant to private school students.
“In the process of doing that, we can’t be a wild and say ‘oh you’re in private school or you’re saying you’re in private school, here’s a grant’, it still has to follow all the accountability processes. But a short answer is that we are actively working to see how we can expand this grant from what has traditionally been in the public school system to involve and benefit our private school children,” she explained.
“And as soon as we have a perfect solution to that, we’re going to announce it, right now, we don’t have the budgetary allocation for that so that would have to be addressed,” she added.
Nevertheless, the Education Minister explained that the students of private educational institutions do benefit from government interventions, pointing to the removal of VAT on education among other general relief measures which she expressed should be passed down to the students.
Over the weekend, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo announced that “We are actively examining, now, the possibility of extending the grant to kids going to private schools. Maybe not all of them will take but some parents have been making the solid case that they struggle at home to send their kids to private schools. It’s not as though they’re rich. And in a way, those kids who go to private schools, they take some pressure off public schools in terms of space. So, the Government will consider all the facts on the issue and we’ll make a determination very, very soon on the matter.”
The “Because We Care” project was launched back in 2014 under the then PPP/C Government. It was implemented to provide support to parents with school-age children and increase their disposable income, to raise enrolment and attendance rates.
After taking office in 2015, however, the APNU/AFC Government scrapped the project, saying the treasury cannot afford to continue with the programme.
Some 172,000 public school students are now expected to benefit from the programme this year, and unlike last year, the school uniform grant will not be given in the form of a voucher but rather as cash.