‘What you want the nation to be you should first put in your schools’

Dear Editor,

I am certain that many Guyanese are familiar with the saying: ‘Train up a child in the way he should grow, so that when he grows old, he shall not depart from it.’  There is another saying that conveys a similar message: “What you want the nation to be, you should first put in your schools” (Von Humboldt, who was charged with the reorganization of Prussian education following Prussia’s defeat by Napoleon).   Several years later, a German professor commenting on the power of Germany remarked: “The forces which the nation required were nourished in the schools; in them the weapons were forged with which the battle for progress was fought.”   Germany is the most powerful nation in Europe nowadays.

The above quotes are vivid examples of the wisdom of the ages. I draw attention to them because of a litany of laments that has characterized our newspaper columns during 2012. I will comment on two of the more recent laments.   First, is Sir Shridath Ramphal’s keynote address at Dies Natalis Anton de Kom University of Suriname: ‘Integrate or Perish: Cha-llenges of the Caribbean Community’ (Guyana Review, October-December 2012, Vol 19, Issue No 4).

The theme or principal concern of Sir Shridath’s address is the Caribbean region’s lack of progress towards regional integration generally, and more particularly the lack of a greater degree of integration in all aspects of the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME).   In his address Sir Shridath reports: “In their Grand Anse Declaration in 1989 [Caribbean] political leaders declared that ‘inspired by the spirit of co-operation and solidarity among us [we] are moved by the need to work expeditiously together to deepen the integration process and strengthen the Caribbean Community in all its dimensions.’ They agreed to a specific work program ‘to be implemented over the next four years’ with primacy given ‘towards the establishment, in the shortest possible time of a single market economy.’”  That was 23 years ago. In twenty-three years, nothing decisive has happened to fulfil the dream of Grand Anse. Is it still a dream? he mournfully asks?

Second is a letter to the editor, ‘A Christmas wish for a return of civic pride,’ (SN, December 12, 2012) in which the contributor laments the abjectness that now characterizes the once beautiful city of Georgetown. It is fair comment to say that this is one of many letters to news editors that have, collectively, lamented the degradation of Guyana’s urban, rural and hinterland environments.

I would suggest that problems of this nature manifest themselves, and will continue to do so at both the local and regional levels until some fundamental educational issues are resolved.   Refer-ence is made to the deficiencies in school organization and curricula with regard to the development of civic-minded, and environmentally literate citizens within Guyana and the wider Caribbean region. The reluctance, inability, or lack of the requisite political will to adequately address these issues, is the most critical constraint that prevents the achievement of desirable goals at the local and regional levels. ‘Think globally, but act locally,’ implies, and in many instances demands, that certain goals have to be achieved at the local levels within each territory before they can ever hope to be attained at the wider, or higher regional level.

Sir Shridath chaired The West Indian Commission that was established at Grand Anse to chart the way towards the achievement of the stated goals. After widespread research and consultations within the Caribbean region and beyond among the region’s diaspora, the commission submitted its report, titled Time For Action. The report states that one of the strongest messages received during their widespread consultations and hearings was that “integration is about people and their everyday concerns, which go beyond such matters as trade regimes and rules of origin.”  This highlights the importance of each and every citizen within the region.

Further, the report acknowledges “the need for fostering greater public awareness of CARICOM and the integration process,” and recommended regional action to be pursued in five areas to reform education (p 263).  But, that was as far as it got. No specialized committees were constituted and charged with the responsibility of making in-depth studies of the areas recommended for reform, and to produce action plans or programmes for consideration by various constituencies.

In 1997, the Government of Guyana (GOG) had the opportunity to introduce relevant environmental education programmes at the school, urban and rural community levels. This opportunity was scuttled, and the consultancy was awarded to a public relations firm. Some years later the Guyana Gold Board and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also missed opportunities to have relevant environmental education programmes conducted in the mining sector. Whatever might have been achieved by these three consultancies, like the periodic urban clean-up campaigns, has proved to be unsustainable. Today, some 15 years later when the situation is infinitely worse,  SN (January11) in a story captioned ‘Solid waste public awareness venture launched,’ reports that the venture will be supported by the same public relations firm “to bring greater public awareness on the issue of solid waste management in Guyana.” It would appear that the GOG is not a learning organization.

Leaders and policy-makers at all levels ought to realize that changes in behaviour (the way persons feel, think or act), would result only through processes that involve learning something new.  Raising awareness about the new ‘facts’ is definitely not the entire process. It is only the first step. Persons must be given the opportunity to understand all the meanings, implications and values that accompany these new facts before they would rationally accept or reject them.  This implies experiences in a variety of learning activities and situations.   It is only after such rational processes have been experienced that persons would commit themselves to the new set of values, and begin to exhibit desirable behaviours, be it in the spheres of social interaction (caring, cooperating, sharing), civic pride (environmental issues), national or regional integration.

The learning curve in every human’s experience is sharpest and steepest during the early years.  Hence, ‘What you want the nation to be, you should first put in your schools!’

Yours faithfully,
Clarence O Perry

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