Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Question 10: To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to tackle the large mark-up on school books and reconsider meeting with book publishers to discuss the mark-up on school books as an additional measure to the issuing of guidance to school principals and the provision of funding to schools for books [14706/11]
I am aware of the concern expressed by many parents and organisations, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, in relation to the high cost of school books and the frequent rate of revisions made by book publishers. I intend to meet with book publishers and representatives of parents in the near future to discuss this important issue in greater detail. I will see what role my Department can play in ensuring that revisions of books are kept to a minimum. Apart from a small number of prescribed texts at second level, mainly in the case of language subjects, decisions on textbooks are taken at school level so it may be necessary to encourage individual schools to take a more cost-conscious approach to the selection of books in their classes.
I sympathise with parents who are experiencing difficulty in paying for school books. The harsh economic reality in Ireland means money is tight for many parents. It is for that reason that I will continue to encourage schools to establish book rental schemes as the most effective means of lowering the cost of books for all students. Many schools are already using the funding for books provided by my Department to operate successful rental schemes.
I thank the Minister for his reply and I am glad that he will make arrangements to meet with school-book publishers. I have raised this question previously and the Minister said he would keep that request under consideration. I have received correspondence, as I presume other Members have, from a printing company in this country that lost a contract with a major school-book publisher. In that correspondence, which I presume the Minister has also received, the printing company said there was a huge mark-up for the school-book publishers. If the figures quoted in the letter are accurate - I have no particular expertise to know whether they are or not - it is a grim tale of how additional costs are imposed on purchasers of such books and the unwarranted profiteering involved. I hope the Minister will raise that issue with the school-book publishers when he meets them.
The Minister rightly pointed out that school principals also have a role to play in this regard. I urge principals and teachers to limit the need to purchase new editions as much as possible.
I am familiar with the issue to which the Deputy has referred. Many of my party members and members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party have expressed concerns to me about the cost of books and the apparent marginal changes which nevertheless require a new book to be purchased. If parents have two or three children in post-primary school, the cost of such books taken together is substantial, particularly in times when many families are suffering from unemployment or significantly reduced incomes. We must examine that again. Traditionally, the Department of Education and Science has said it does not have a role to play in that regard. I intend to change that. I will meet with the publishers and I will examine all the issues to which the Deputy referred. If any Member of the House has concerns in this area, I would be happy to hear from him or her.
I welcome the Minister's comments. Once a Minister and a Department puts an issue on the agenda, even though they do not have the power to directly intervene, it brings a new importance to the particular task at hand. I am sure no right thinking company would ignore the views of a Minister or a Department on an issue that has been ongoing for far too many years.
On a matter that relates to an earlier question, that of e-learning projects and publications, is the Department actively involved in encouraging schools to use this facility more or is provision being made to ensure that e-learning projects and publications are more prevalent in the classroom than they have been in the past?
I am somewhat new to this Department, as the Deputy will be aware. My impression, which I will confirm or modify if necessary, is that the initiatives on e-learning are coming from local schools. I already quoted Meath VEC as one example and such initiatives have been seen in other places as well.
We are examining the reform of the secondary level curriculum, both at junior and senior cycles, and the question of e-learning must be an integral part of that review. The former council of the NCCA is meeting fairly soon, in the middle of this month, to review a proposal for reform of the junior cycle. There will be a major conference, the first of its kind, between the Higher Education Authority and the NCCA to examine the reform of the secondary level curriculum with a view to making it a much better link between primary level, which has a good curriculum and is progressive and open-ended, and third level. In that context at the beginning of the 21st century we cannot ignore e-learning and all the manifestations that go with that.
The Minister rightly pointed out that there have been some great innovative projects by different school communities throughout the country. I did not get the opportunity to mention to him previously the use of technology by County Cavan VEC. There are projects within some of its second level schools where subjects such as mathematics are taught through the e-learning process. If the Department could bring together the knowledge, skill and expertise that have been acquired by schools and vocational education committees throughout the country, it could set a good prototype for developing a scheme on a national basis.