Shiva Boys Hindu College Interact Club's teacher coordinator, Jaime Birbal, sorts textbooks for needy children at the school's administrative office on Thursday. (Image: KRISTIAN DE SILVA)
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As unemployed parents struggle to buy books in time for the new school term, students from the Shiva Boys Hindu College Interact Club have started a free book drive to assist students in need.

Speaking to Guardian Media on Thursday, Club president Ashira Ramkissoon said since the closure of Petrotrin, many parents were struggling to buy books for their children. She said the pandemic had exacerbated unemployment and poverty in many communities.

“We did this out of our good hearts because we know the cost of books and how difficult it has been for some people,” Ramkissoon said.

The vice-principal of Shiva Boys Hindu College Devinesh Neeranjan said in every class, there was an average of five students who had not received their school textbooks.

He said this problem was experienced by many other students at surrounding schools in the southern district.

“The Ministry provides books under its Schools Textbook Programme, but a lot of these books have become outdated,” Neeranjan said.

He added: “We had to change the booklist a few years back. Now with COVID, we are seeing that quite a few parents cannot afford a lot of these books.”

The average cost of a secondary school book is $300 and with some students doing between eight to 12 subjects, Neeranjan said the cost of books per student is extremely high.

“The club had a good initiative, and we are encouraging them in this drive so they can donate to the needy children. We understand the situation as it relates to the Ministry of Education, and we know there are budgetary allocation constraints.  We understand what the Ministry is going through so this is why we are doing this free book drive,” he added.

Teacher coordinator Jaime Birbal who teaches geography and environmental science, encouraged corporate T&T to support the initiative.

She said similar drives were being done by Interact Clubs throughout the country.

“We are hoping that the Ministry of Education can update a lot of textbooks. We are also appealing to well-wishers to get involved, because as you know, it takes a village to raise a child,” Birbal said.

Guardian Media contacted the president of the Penal/Debe Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Rampersad Sieuraj, to enquire whether the business community can assist in the book drive.

He said the Chamber has not been approached but he noted that it was a worthwhile venture. He said discussions will be held to provide support to the Club in its quest to provide all needy children with schoolbooks.

Contacted for comment, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsy-Dolly said there are plans to upgrade textbooks that are provided by the Textbook Management Unit of the Ministry.

“We just closed the RFP for the supply of ebooks to the MOE. This is the direction in which we are heading. Those will be evaluated, and further decisions will be taken on the basis of what has been submitted,” she said.

Anyone wanting to donate or receive free books from the Shiva Boys Hindu College can contact Jaime Birbal at 755-4042 or 372-8822.