The Government has announced that it is making $329 million available to purchase digital devices for needy students under the recently launched $60 billion SERVE Jamaica Programme.
Finance and Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke made the announcement Wednesday in a statement in the House of Representatives.
Under the initiative which has been dubbed the ‘SERVE Jamaica Digital Programme, eligible students will be identified by Members of Parliament and councillors, “as students in need who have not benefited from other Government laptop/digital device programmes,” Clarke said.
His announcement comes nearly one year since the parliamentary Opposition first called on the government to waive the duties and taxes on digital devices to enable poorer students to continue their education online.
That call was echoed by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association which has reported that up to 200,000 students are still without an electronic device that would allow them to connect online, more than one year after schools were shuttered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several influential private sector groups also urged the Administration to waive the duties but were largely ignored.
On Wednesday, Clarke told the House that the allocation of $189 million will amount to $3 million per Member of Parliament. He said it was intended to supplement and complement the Ministry of Education’s existing laptop/digital device programmes.
“Once the devices have been procured by e-Learning Jamaica Company Limited, the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service will make payment to the supplier directly, by instruction from the Accountant General’s Department,” said Clarke.
He said the SERVE Jamaica Digital Device Programme is a collaborative programme involving the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, the Ministry of Education, Members of Parliament through the Constituency Development Fund, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and councilors.
In justifying the decision to involve politicians, Clarke noted that Members of Parliament and councillors know needy constituents and families who are not enrolled in the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) for instance and others who, for technical reasons wouldn’t qualify, but who are in every practical sense in need of assistance.
“The government is aware of coverage gaps and hence the strategy of employing a variety of complementary distribution mechanisms to reach the target population with appropriate safeguards to prevent waste and duplication,” the minister said.