Focus/Spotlight

No change in voucher value

  • Textbooks and uniform vouchers delayed

By Sarah Hannan

Just two weeks into the new school term, several incidents have been reported indicating that some schools, especially in the Western Province, are yet to receive textbooks and school uniform vouchers for the academic year 2020.

Concerns have also been raised on the value of the vouchers issued to purchase school uniforms, with parents assuming that the values have been reduced from previous years.

According to the Ministry of Education, in 2016, the value of school uniform vouchers ranged from Rs. 400 to Rs. 1,700, whereas this year, the voucher value ranged from Rs. 440 to Rs. 1,800.

Value of uniform vouchers issued in 2016

The value of the school uniform voucher was increased in 2018, which came into effect from 2019 onwards when the Ministry of Education, following an islandwide survey, decided to increase its value. However, with the Government providing tax concessions to businesses, this value remained unchanged in 2020.

Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin, speaking to The Sunday Morning, stated: “There is a delay in the distribution of school uniform vouchers, textbooks, workbooks, and teacher guide books to some schools in the Western Province. For example, grade eight students are yet to receive their textbooks for the subjects of Sinhala, history, practical and training skills (PTS), maths i and ii, science ii, and the English workbook. Even some textbooks and the teacher guidebook for environmental studies for grade five have not been distributed.”

Stalin urged that the Ministry should follow a proper procedure when distributing school textbooks. He further noted that the CTU has been continuously complaining about these shortfalls to the Ministry, but the Ministry or the relevant authorities are not taking any action to rectify these matters.

“In an ideal situation, textbooks and school uniform vouchers for the upcoming year should be distributed when the school closes for the last term of the (previous) year. Even State Minister of Education Ranjith Siyambalapitiya admitted that there is a shortage of textbooks, but what they should ideally be doing is trying to find a solution for it,” Stalin revealed.

Pending at zonal education offices

The Sunday Morning contacted Minister of Education, Sports, and Youth Affairs Dullas Alahapperuma to clarify the delay in distributing the textbooks and school uniform vouchers.

“The Ministry has taken steps to dispatch the textbooks and school uniform vouchers to the respective zonal education offices. As of last week, we have dispatched these items to all zonal education offices, except for the Sri Jayewardenepura Zonal Education Office. If any of the other schools have not received the textbooks and school uniform vouchers yet, the delay could be caused at the respective zonal education office,” he said.

Alahapperuma further explained that the Ministry directly dispatches the textbooks and uniform vouchers to national schools, while other schools would receive them through the respective zonal education offices, and that the respective zonal education office should be contacted to inquire about the delay.

Only rumours

Responding to the concerns on the change in the value of uniform vouchers and whether there was a reduction of the value, Alahapperuma stated that groups with ill intentions were trying to generate distrust towards the newly appointed Government by sharing such posts on social media.

“The only change we made on the voucher was to remove the faces of the politicians and instead use an image of a group of schoolchildren from all ethnicities. The voucher value ranges from Rs. 440 to Rs. 1,800 and is issued under 11 categories.”

Alahapperuma also explained that with the reduction of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) and Nation Building Tax (NBT), the children would receive additional relief.

“The voucher which is marked at Rs. 1,800 would carry a value of over Rs. 2,000 with the recent tax concessions,” the Minister further noted.

The total cost incurred to issue school uniform vouchers for 2020 stood at Rs. 2.9 billion, while the Ministry had also spent Rs. 958 million to issue vouchers for shoes to 700,000 schoolchildren who resided in remote areas. The shoe voucher value ranged from Rs. 1,200 to Rs, 1,500 and is issued under four categories.