I took the very first French course today, and on the way back home I stopped by an bookstore to buy the class material. It was a quite small bookstore, compactly organised inside, and when I stepped in, I saw the number ticket just as one takes number from the butcher’s. We see all those books hanging, and when one’s number is called, the meat is offered to nurture the brain. It was quite an epic scene for me to be there inside of that bookstore today, observing people waiting for their number to be called. And I thought; for what kind of book they want to buy here and why so many people are waiting? Can they just pick up the book they want to read, and leave after paying?
Then I realised that they are all parents. Some came with their kids, and others by themselves. When their number was called, they took out a list of school books from their pocket. All those books for their kids to learn at school. We all know from now that Argentina has a good fame of free education system, but ironically books are quite expensive to afford. I also came to Argentina because the tertiary education is cheaper than that of Chile. But was it true after all? For example, in University of Chile I was given all materials to read as hardcopy or virtually, and also programmes to use when it needed. Since I was to pay for the high fee for education, it was a service that I claim to receive. But here in Argentina, since the education is almost free, I need to seek for further baseline. I need to find references then copy to keep. Copying fee isn’t that cheap so I prefer saving it as in PDF form to read on the screen. Books are expensive so I almost never buy one, with an exception of those are aligned at book fair; cheap poems that no one dare to read.
Can we still say that education is universal right in Argentina? Half an hour waiting in a bookstore clashed that vision in half, and I could recalled when I was studying in Korea and in Northern Mariana Islands. How was the school materials distribution on those schools?
In Korea, every new semester I was given all text books delivered to the classroom at the very first day. Maybe the book was cheap, so it was affordable to distribute those materials to all individuals. I had all those books put in my locker. In Northern Mariana Islands, big hardcover books were put at the backside of classroom. In chemistry class we picked the chemistry book and shared to read with two or three classmates. Books were sacred as so they should be returned to their post after class. To pick one to home a permit would be needed. It was a public goods. Those two examples were possible because of public purchase.
So then, maybe in those Argentinean schools, public purchase would be needed to provide better distribution of educational materials? Since books are expensive it became a profitable business, someone should be paying for the price. In Argentina, then, individuals are paying this price. Parents are the responsible ones for the education, and of course, this is the vicious circle of poverty and social segmentation, for wealthy parents will provide materials and others not. This point, it becomes quite ironic what the window advertises; Back to School.
When I got my number called, after 30 minutes of waiting, worrying about my bike locked outside of the bookstore, I approached up to the clerk and asked of the book I wanted to purchase. Then I asked to the clerk;
– Has school material been privatised already?
She told me that she didn’t understand the question, so I explained again whether school doesn’t provide education materials like textbooks and each household needs to take charge of those materials. She told me that it has been like this ever since, no matter what school is nearby; public or private. What would be the reasonable difficulty here that doesn’t allow schools to provide those textbooks at the very first day of course? They are more countable to know how many students enrolled, and etc. If parents need to pay for this education fee, why can’t they pay at school and schools provide service at once? Why all those parents need to make a line waiting at a bookstore 30 minutes on the workday just to get those textbook done? Even if public purchase solves this inconvenience, would publishing corporations let State deal with this?
I was watching a motivational video of comfort zone today, and how learning process liberates one from staying in one’s comfort zone. It’s called development, and in this video development simply was defined as change. Is change necessary? Isn’t it all about why we are to be educated? Or maybe Argentine people value more this waiting time and household paying, because it might symbolise how much care parents show to their children. Maybe there are some cultural backgrounds on this explanation.
Maybe in Argentina, nerved parents waiting their number to be called to buy textbooks, with their children set aside holding a smartphone watching videos or playing games, are considered as a nostalgic culture, just as people miss when they used to go to post office by themselves to withdraw arrival postcards. The irony is that we live in a world where gas and light fee comes to the very front door, just as where schools have far been modernised to take care of those education materials.