Government myopia and schizophrenia
Amid the stench of shame engulfing this country in the wake of government’s admission in this Education Month that it had been and intended to continue indulging in the theft of intellectual property, there came a ray of hope in the constancy of the Guyana Book Foundation (GBF), which recently began its annual distribution of supplementary reading books and teachers’ resource materials to hinterland schools.
The GBF, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, has been making these donations to schools in the interior regions during Education Month every year. It also partners with schools around the country, which have the opportunity to build and replenish their libraries at a very low cost. A product of Education Renewal, an organization started in 1986 by a group of educators led by Olga Bone, the GBF has partnered with businesses, local and international agencies as well as government and non-government organisations in order to fulfil its mandate, which is to ensure that children have access to low cost and no-cost books, reading material and other educational resources and services.
Over the years, GBF says on its website, it has distributed more than one and a half million books to over 500 schools and educational institutions. The GBF receives some of its books from the Canadian Organisation for Development through Education (CODE) and its affiliate the International Book Bank (IBB). “IBB provides high quality books which are academic, reference and storybooks that support education needs and literacy acquisition. These North-American donated books are supplemented by locally produced books written, illustrated and printed by Guyanese and are culturally relevant, gender and language appropriate,” the GBF said.
The GBF said it has developed, published and distributed over 25 titles which include storybooks written by well known Guyanese Jan Carew and Walter Rodney; big books and small books for nursery children written by Florence Sukhdeo; copywriting and grammar books with teacher’s guides by Olga Bone and the Steps to Reading series written by Pamela O’Toole. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what the GBF has been doing as it has also published books in the Makushi Language in collaboration with the Makushi Research Unit for the promotion and revitalization of the Makushi Language. However, the GBF and its accomplishments have remained largely unsung by the powers that be.
The Ministry of Education is listed among the GBF’s partners. Yet, when it sought to procure school texts, the ministry, under former minister Shaik Baksh, entered into shady deals with copyright pirates. Since it is the Ministry of Education that sets curricula and decides which textbooks would be needed to cover them, one wonders why, particularly in the nursery and primary areas, there was no move to use the grammar and reading books, written by Guyanese authors, and already being published by the GBF. A serious case of ministerial myopia perhaps?
Meanwhile, just three years ago, the Bharrat Jagdeo government set up the much vaunted Caribbean Publishing House, which receives an annual grant of US$100,000 from government coffers. It has since republished a number of ‘Guyana Classics’ and at the time it was established was proposed as a “much needed opening for emerging Guyanese writers to have their work published,” by its editor Professor David Dabydeen.
Ironically, the whole time this move to preserve local literature was being pursued, the same government, under the Ministry of Education was paying millions of dollars to fly-by-night ‘printers’ to photocopy books written by other people to be used by Guyanese children in school. Dr Roger Luncheon has since said that this was a Cabinet decision.
The question that must be asked then is how a government which claims to place much store in preserving its people’s culture could openly and without a qualm abuse someone else’s. Or is it a case of schizophrenia? It makes you think, doesn’t it?