Peru: Sanctions slow to come for schools that turn profit off textbooks


By forcing parents to purchase textbooks from the school itself, schools and publishing companies can engage in illegal price fixing. (Photo: Colegio Kolbe)

Long lists of supplies, high-priced books and a hole in their pockets are all part of what Peruvian parents endure every year at the start of the academic year.

The case of Medardo Barrueto, retired at the age of 77, is no exception. He has been forced to use part of his pension due to the high cost of books at his grandson Santiago’s school. “A couple of books come out to be 200 soles, and we are forced to buy them from the school itself. It’s abuse,” he said.

The only choice parents have is to pay the price set by the school, which gives the school high commissions from the publishing companies.

The media backlash against this practice has discovered that representatives from publishing houses Santillana, Corefo, Hilder and San Marcos offer to “inflate” the price of the books to allow for extra earnings on the part of the school. For example, Hilder suggests selling books for S/. 130 even though their true price is S/. 85, leaving a S/. 45 profit for the school on every book sold. It’s basic math: in a class of 25 students, the school receives a net commission of S/. 1, 125 for a single text.

By forcing parents to buy specific titles from the school itself, schools commit various legal offenses. Another “lighter” way of directing the purchase is to issue discount tickets for certain publishers to parents together with the list of school supplies. But even this type of practice is prohibited under the law of family economy protection and the consumer’s code.

Another directive, recently passed in 2011, makes it illegal to demand that parents purchase school supplies, textbooks or uniforms as a prerequisite for matriculation.

Whose job is it to sanction these practices? It seems that Indecopi, Peru’s consumer protection agency, has been slow to take concrete action on the matter, despite having received various complaints from both families and small, independent publishing houses over the past several years. Vice minister of education Victor Raúl Díaz Chávez filed another complaint yesterday—even though classes began a week ago.

“Educational institutions have authorization from the ministry to provide an educational service based on pedagogical motive, not a commercial one. Texts should be chosen for their quality and not for any commission. [The committee] will be able to take action, from issuing a warning to taking away a school’s authorization,” he said.