Back-to-school costs highlighted by committee

Ebooks and tablets being introduced to schools without consideration of their educational merit, says Oireachtas committee

Aodhan Ó Ríordáin: criticised school patrons who he said were responsible for a “vacuum of leadership”. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Aodhan Ó Ríordáin: criticised school patrons who he said were responsible for a “vacuum of leadership”. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times


CONOR POPE, Consumer Affairs Correspondent

Expensive e-books and tablet computers are being introduced to Irish schools without any consideration of their educational merit and the Department of Education has lost control of their proliferation, an Oireachtas committee said yesterday.

At the publication of its report on back-to-school costs the vice-chairman of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection Aodhán Ó Ríordáin suggested that the introduction of such devices in some schools had more to do with trying to compete with neighbouring schools and “less about the educational validity” of such programmes.

“Until we know the educational value of the e-book or the tablet we can’t make any recommendations about their use. The Department of Education has not taken control of this issue and it needs to take control,” he said.

Among the recommendations included in the report are suggestions that schools stop forcing students to wear expensive crested uniforms. It also says workbooks should be outlawed and calls for voluntary contributions to be “greatly discouraged, if not completely prohibited”.

The report, which was compiled by Mr Ó Ríordáin on behalf of the committee, also calls for the introduction of a universal schoolbook rental scheme and sharply criticises school patrons for what it says is “a vacuum of leadership” when it comes to minimising education costs.

Mr O’Riordan criticised school patrons who he said were responsible for a “vacuum of leadership” and he expressed disquiet that many had told the committee that school costs were not their responsibility. “That is not good enough. If you are patron of a school then at the very least you have to have an opinion on the issue.” He said that while they may not have a role to play in the day-to-day running of the schools they possessed the “moral authority” to direct schools away from costly uniforms and voluntary contributions and towards parent-friendly book schemes.

He also accused some schools of being “quite aggressive” when collecting so called voluntary contributions and said that in many cases the contributions were mandatory and totally unregulated.

He accepted part of the problem was reduced funding from the Department of Education and also said there had been “absence of leadership” from the Department of Education which he said was more focussed on producing “guidelines not leadership”. He suggested that “a level of complacency had developed around the State’s educational system and “the attitude is that ‘it’s grand’ but it is not grand”.

Addressing the report the chairwoman of the committee Joanna Tuffy said she was “very aware that back-to school costs are a major issue for parents” and said that State was “moving further and further away from the principal of free education”.

Audry Deane of the Society for the St Vincent de Paul welcomed the report but called for action rather than words. “Who is responsible for advancing a cost cutting approach, “ she asked. “It is still getting ping ponged around.”

Mr O’Riordan said the committee would be following the publication up by writing to all those who had made submissions to formally respond by September.