Fri | Oct 23, 2020

Growth & Jobs | Remittances give students lifeline

Published:Tuesday | September 29, 2020 | 12:07 AM

For the last 12 years, Amanda Collins has depended on remittances to assist her with back-to-school expenses. The funds, sent by both parents who live and work in the United States of America, provide support for the second-year university student to pay her tuition, purchase textbooks, pay for transportation, and take care of her daily expenses.

Collins, 22, affirms that remittances have allowed her to complete high school, and eventually, to attend university, where she is currently majoring in forensic science.

“While attending high school, the funds sent between June and September were used to purchase textbooks, stationery, uniforms, pay various fees, and cover day-to-day expenses. When I was accepted to The University of the West Indies, it assisted to pay my tuition and purchase textbooks. If it wasn’t for remittances, I would not be able to attend school because my older sister, who raised me, would not be able to afford it,” Collins explained.

Collins is one of many Jamaicans who rely on remittances to continue their education. Data from the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) reveals that approximately 14 per cent of all remittances entering Jamaica is used for education. This percentage places education third behind utilities and food, which accounts for 19 and 18 per cent, respectively. The funds remitted for education assist families to pay tuition, purchase back-to-school supplies, pay exam fees, and cover other expenses.

The BOJ also revealed that remittance inflows to the country during the back-to-school period of late August to September are surpassed only by the Christmas period. The central bank added that back-to-school supplies also account for 5.1 per cent of all non-cash gifts entering the country.

EASES BURDEN

Kemmehi Lozer, lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean, notes that in addition to being a social safety net, remittances ease the burden on the State and schools to provide for students.

“Parents or relatives overseas send funds home to assist with back-to-school expenses for many persons who would otherwise have to depend on social programmes run by the Government or school alumni to attain their education. It also reduces the pressure on the Government and the schools’ welfare programmes based on how the funds are used,” he explained.

Lozer stated that the COVID-19 pandemic may have an impact on how the funds are used this year.

“It is too early to say how COVID-19 has impacted remittances for this year’s back-to-school period,” he pointed out. “However, I believe that some of those funds may now be invested in technology such as tablets or the soft copy of textbooks. Also, I think that the pandemic has affected how much money may be sent back by Jamaicans in the diaspora. I know our people are resilient and will send funds home regardless of the situation. However, that figure could be less than in previous years, but we will have to wait and see,” he said.

Horace Hines, general manager, JN Money Services, owners and operators of the JN Money brand, said that Jamaicans overseas continue to support education by sending funds home.

“Annually, at this time, we hear stories from Jamaicans abroad about the sacrifices they make to remit funds to assist their children to gain their education. These funds assist many students to complete their education, which enhances our national development in the long term,” he said.

The general manager pointed out that “it was also one of the reasons why, over the years, JN Money has assisted many students with scholarships and back-to-school supplies because we recognise the sacrifice which Jamaicans in the diaspora make to ensure that their relatives can complete their education at home”.

“However, this year, the challenge is greater, based on the emergence and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hinds said. “Consequently, JN Money Services has donated tablets to students to assist with their online learning, recognising the challenges many were having with accessing classes via remote learning.”

Collins agreed that the pandemic had disrupted traditional learning and explained that the funds sent this year were used to pay tuition, purchase a laptop. and cover day-to-day expenses.

She also pointed out that “with the classes being moved online, I used the funds, which I would have set aside for transportation, to purchase a data plan and also invested in a new laptop. The funds being sent are less, because of the challenges my parents are going through; however, I am grateful because without remittances, I would not be able to achieve my dream of attending university.”