Jeffrey raps gov’t over cash grant for students

-says needs systematic approach

Columnist Dr Henry Jeffrey says that the grant of $10,000 to parents for each child in public schools announced in this year’s budget lacks the type of rigour associated with such cash transfer schemes.

In his column in last Tuesday’s Stabroek News, Jeffrey said “It must be obvious that the $10,000 annual grant that the government has now decided to give to all public school age children bears little resemblance to the kind of systematic approach associated with CCT (Condi-tional Cash Transfer) programming.

In an earlier column, Jeffrey had said “This policy has everything wrong with it. It is intended to improve school enrollment and attendance but is untargeted and applies to the entire public school population. It is without stated baseline data and targets against which effectiveness can be judged. And it is promised for only one year as if it is expected that the problem will be solved in that period!”

Dr Henry Jeffrey
Dr Henry Jeffrey

Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh’s announcement of the grant in this year’s budget has been criticized by the opposition as an electioneering ploy.

Noting that Minister of Education Priya Manickchand has been calling for more parental involvement to prepare children for school life, Jeffrey said this wouldn’t happen just like that.

“Simple exhortation will not make this happen; parents need to be given opportunities and incentives to act and a properly focused school grant system could be of some use. Fortunately, it might not be too late to attempt to structure, focus and optimize the value of this latest education intervention”, he stated.

Jeffrey, a former Minis-ter of Education in the PPP/C government, also related his experience with trying to put together a CCT programme and referred to several studies which analysed the impact of such schemes.

He said that in 2003/4, when he was the minister, his ministry began discussions with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security (MLHSS) on areas of possible collaboration. He said that what was in mind then was the setting up of a CCT which he said had already shown its usefulness in many Latin American and Caribbean countries.

In Guyana, he said it was suggested that the MLHSS implement the programme because that ministry was responsible for social security and distributed a public assistance grant to the kinds of households that were relatively more affected by poor school attendance. Further-more, the MLHSS already had substantial infrastructure on the ground that could be developed to accomplish the task. It is unclear what was the eventual outcome of the discussions.

Jeffrey referred to the Jamaican Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) which was established in 2002 and a Harvard study of it.

PATH, he noted rationalized three then existing welfare programmes to increase administrative effectiveness across the board. It benefits five categories: children from birth to secondary; the elderly poor; persons with disabilities; pregnant and lactating women and poor adults not in the elderly category (http://www.mlss.gov.jm/pub/index.php?artid=23).

To qualify for a PATH grant, one has to be a member of a poor family and pass a means test. In relation to education, children over 6 must be attending a government-funded school and must upkeep a minimum monthly attendance record of 85%, in order to receive the grant.  Up to 2008, he noted that the value of the grant was standardized for all categories of beneficiaries but in that year, to encourage greater school attendance, differential benefits were introduced. Since 2010, he said that non-compliant beneficiaries receive a minimum benefit instead of none at all and the remainder of the benefit is paid if and when they meet the requirements.

He pointed out that key to the management of PATH in Jamaica are the parish review and appeals committees established in each parish. Each committee has about nine members: and an appointed chairperson and representatives from the regional offices of the Ministries of Education and Health, the parish, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the local community, the Child Development Agency, and the parish manager of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

The committees are tasked with reviewing the concerns of applicants who were rejected for a grant and the condition of existing non-compliant beneficiaries. They also hear appeals from persons dissatisfied with termination by the programme.

This is the type of framework, Jeffrey said, was missing in the initiative recently announced by the Finance Minister.

Adverting to the Harvard study on PATH, Jeffrey said that it concluded that the programme was effective in boosting attendance both at school and health care facilities.  In terms of school attendance, the estimated rise was statistically significant at about 3 per cent over the baseline level, he said. In health, the rise was approximately 38%.

But while the programme was successful at increasing attendance, Jeffrey said that the study found no evidence that it was able to affect longer-term education and health quality outcomes, such as marks in school, advancement to the next grade, or health care status.

Acknowledging that their methodology may have been wanting in some areas, Jeffrey said that the researchers made the following important observation:  “Another potential explanation behind the finding is that increasing attendance to school and health centers is simply not enough by itself to substantially improve longer-term outcomes”.

The government has not provided details on when this programme will start and how the money will be distributed.

 

 

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