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Mixed reaction to hike in school uniform assistance

Guyanese are exhibiting mixed responses to government’s decision to raise the value of school-uniform vouchers from $1,500 to $2,000.

Reading highlights from the 2015 Budgetary Estimates in the National Assembly last Monday, Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, said “this will benefit more than 167,000 students at a cost of over $337 million.” He also announced a 25 percent increase on the amount paid to persons who sew uniforms in remote hinterland locations.

These persons will now receive $1,000, as opposed to the previous amount of $800. This additional initiative is expected to benefit 33,000 students.

Demerara Waves Online News took to the streets of Georgetown this week to find out what citizens think about the increase. “I think the government is doing a good thing yeah, but still, is too lil bit. I mean a little bit more could have worked, about like $3000,” believes 28 year-old Shonette Simon, a mother of two who operates a food stall on Regent Street.  

In a bid to paint a picture of what uniform and stationery articles go for these days, Simon, a food vendor, explained that “a shirt is $500, a pants is $700, a dozen socks is $1, 200,” although she pointed out that “who can’t afford it, two socks for $500 on the pave.”

She also shared that…”two vests (go) for $500,” underwear (go for) $1200 by the dozen,” and a “backpack is $1500 or $2000, depending in the size.” Simon said that many parents may have to purchase a new pair of shoes each term, and that aside from school clothes, “yuh got the things yuh got to put inside the backpack.”

“Yuh got books, yuh got pencil, yuh got ruler, yuh got geometry set, yuh got calculator, so I mean a little more increase would be appreciated but we still appreciate for the $2,000.”

A stationary salesman, who operates on the pavement in front of the Shell Gas station on Regent Street, believes that the increase is “good.”

The man, who asked that his identity not be disclosed, said “$1,500 was from the last government, this government put on $500 more; I think that’s good…yuh cant come in jusuh and raise it by $1,000 or raise it by $2,000. Suh if next year they raise it by $500 more that’s wonderful. He also pointed out that some parents spend their money and cash-in their vouchers unwisely; opting to shop at the “big-name stores” where prices are higher as opposed to shopping at the smaller, not as popular stores where prices are lower.

Demerara Waves Online News also asked two men who were visiting friends in the Stabroek Market Bazaar. Sean Morgan, a father of four children attending various public schools, admitted that he does not use the uniform vouchers, but said he feels the increase by $500 is not enough.

While unable to say how much he thinks would have been a sufficient increase, Morgan believes “it should have been much more,” particularly for single parents. “There are single parents with three, four, five children because people go away and leave them.” At this point a friend of his who was nearby said “they aint got single parents, when women leave one man they go and tek a next one.”

“When you add $500 to $1,500 you get $200. A shirt and a pants alone is more than $1, 000,” Morgan said.

A friend of Morgan, Elvis Port, believes people should not complain about the $500 increase. “Nothing is never enough; would we have complained if it stayed the same?” Port asked.

“How long we been getting the $1,500? Did we ask if it was enough? We did doing without it all the time, all the years before. We could still get something next year,” said Port.

Two single mothers inside the Stabroek Market structure told Demerara Waves Online News that the voucher amount should have been increased to $3,000 or $3,500. Twenty eight year-old Indi Narine, who operates a food business in the market, and a friend of hers, who asked not to be identified, admitted that they do not benefit from the voucher, but said there are persons who do depend on them that will not be able to do much with a $500 increase.

“We might not feel the squeeze, but remember they got some people who got four children, five children…they should raise the voucher a little more,” Narine believes. The women also believe that “single parents should get first option whether their children go to private or public schools.” Narine says that while her daughter attends private school that should not be taken to be an indication that she does not need assistance.

The woman says that she is sacrificing a lot to send her daughter to a private school, but that people wrongly assume that she is well-off financially because of this.