It’s time to call a halt to the annual schoolbook scam

My son's books are “out of date” and worthless. How can publishers get away with this?

 ‘I now have a huge stack of schoolbooks that were entirely current during the previous school year and are now considered obsolete.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

‘I now have a huge stack of schoolbooks that were entirely current during the previous school year and are now considered obsolete.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The new school year is almost upon us and with it comes the annual deluge of pre-school bills – from uniforms and shoes to bags, lunchboxes and the ever-contentious issue of schoolbooks.

There was a time when students with older siblings could be guaranteed a few hand-me-down books which, depending on their condition, would see them through the academic year. But times have changed and over the past few years it seems as if the schoolbook industry is playing a financially rewarding game at our expense.

I have three sons at various stages in their educational journey and given that they have all gone to the same schools and for the most part have studied the same subjects, it would be fair to think that I could pass books from one brother to the next or when then they were finished, I could donate to another child or even sell on to the local book shop. But unfortunately this is not the case.

So despite the fact that our wonderful primary school has long had a policy where children are not allowed to write in workbooks in order to preserve them for another user, many of these books are deemed worthless as they have been “updated” for the current year.

Because he had kept his books in such good condition, I had informed my youngest son that he could sell them to the local store and pocket the winnings, but having hauled his large collection (plus a few from his older brothers) into the shop, he only managed to sell three of them and came away with a measly €10 for books that will be resold for at least that price apiece.

The rest were apparently “out of date”, not listed for the coming year or as is the case with language and music books, unsalable due to the cunning insertion of a CD which, I have on good authority, is never actually used.

It is infuriating to say the least.

Year-upon-year publishers seem to change the pagination of books so students are obliged to buy a new version – how are they allowed to get away with this?

Why do schools not make a stand and refuse to request the latest edition unless absolutely necessary? Surely not every section of every subject has an updated content every year? If this were the case, then what is the point of buying past exam papers as the information would no longer be relevant.

It seems we are being screwed by companies with a very healthy profit margin which is increasing every year and the Department of Education is doing precious little to change the situation.

Surely it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility for the Department to eschew attempts by publishers to update versions unless absolutely necessary – in fact, they could even provide an extra booklet with any important changes, which would totally remove the need to buy an entirely new book each year.

Obviously I know that we can’t use the same schoolbooks for decades, but getting more than a year or two out of them would be nice. And I know I am not alone in my rant as Ireland’s largest online parenting community mummypages.ie reveals that a “staggering number of parents are struggling to cope” with the cost of kitting their children out for school.

“The government needs to step in on this issue and enforce a policy that does not allow publishers of educational textbooks to update these without prior permission,” says Laura Erskine of the parenting site.

“Any changes should be in line with government-approved changes to the school curriculum and international best practice in teaching methodology. When you consider that the government is providing increased funding to schools for more expansive book rental schemes to help save parents money, it would make sense that they also control the frequency of these textbook updates so that they too get maximum bang for their buck.”

Indeed.

And while some schools have chosen to replace books with digital technology, this too has been targeted by the money makers as apparently online books are only available on devices for a certain period of time, meaning parents have to keep forking-out for the latest edition.

Not to mention the fact that recent research has indicated that relying on technology for school can cause problems with eyesight, memory, sleep and the effectiveness of study – so old fashioned paper books will always be in demand.

As things stand, I now have a huge stack of schoolbooks that were entirely current during the previous school year and are now considered obsolete – the local bookstore won’t take them as they can’t sell them to anyone else and I can’t even give them away as they are out of date.

It’s time to start helping parents and schoolchildren – put a stop to the annual schoolbook scam before we all get lost under the mountains of obsolete textbooks.

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