Two years is enough for the Education Minister to cage the lessons monster

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to the letter from Mr Lance Cumberbatch titled, ‘The greatest source of failure in education is teachers who shortchange pupils to force them to attend extra lessons’ (SN, May 14).  Finally, someone else joins in hitting the nail squarely on the head and powerfully so.  I commend the writer for his missive, and SN for an unflinching caption; this is overdue, and once again focuses an unforgiving spotlight on this national abomination called extra lessons that squeezes this society in a suffocating grip.

Those who are punished, if not crippled, by non-performing teachers are among the weakest in this society.  They include the poor, the vulnerable, the not-so-gifted, the unmotivated, the single parent, the honest parents, and the depressed brutalized communities.  When teachers deny them (and they do) they are not only consigned to the failures and hopelessness of the bottom, but are prone to perpetuate the vicious cycles that imprison them.

I am heartened that the education CoI identified as a concern consistent quality delivery of syllabus, and the whole lessons apparatus.  To restate the obvious, failure to deliver the syllabus in a consistent, conscientious, and quality manner generates the demand for extra lessons before and after school, as well as any other unaccounted for hours quickly occupied.  More hours means more students and more money for those crafty teachers who victimize and hold hostage children and parents, and the education system as well.

To be fair, there are still dedicated education professionals, like the ones I used to know from ancient times; they were role models all.  But there are too many sharp teachers who (like calculating perpetrators) scout the terrain (classroom) and target sitting ducks (students).  This established, growing cohort of exploiters are undeniably terrible examples of work ethic, principles, character, human decency, and basic professionalism.  In this, they are sometimes aided by department heads and school heads who either turn a blind eye, or are intimidated, or are conveniently silent and wilfully ignorant, so as to collect a piece of the lessons proceeds.  The latter is closely guarded, but this is a leaky society.

Editor, there is yet another ugly strain to the lessons phenomenon that rarely makes the headlines.  Children who do not attend lessons are marginalized by vindictive subject teachers as part of the penalty inflicted.  They are ignored, dismissed, and threatened with not being “signed up” for the subject at the CSEC level.  I think that this is tantamount to theft of services, and should be sanctioned harshly.

I have written at least a half a dozen times on the issues of ‘absentee’ teachers, non-delivery of syllabus, student marginalization, student (and parent) intimidation, and coercion.  I have conversed with poor parents and observed the naked fear on their faces, the defeated body language.  These are among the reasons that I plan on continuing to write, if only to maintain the glare on this longstanding repugnance, this deplorable behaviour.

Still, even as I do so, I acknowledge that there is need for some lessons.  I venture that that should be somewhere around a twenty to twenty-five per cent fraction of what is the reality today.  This would be to accommodate situations where there are weaker students who could use the helping hand; where there is known teacher shortage; or where the education environment is depleted of a learning culture.

On another note, and to my continuing amazement, I learn of platoons of students from QC and The Bishop’s High (and other top schools) who flock to lessons.  Indeed, this says a lot about their aptitude or confidence on the one hand, and quality  of syllabus delivery on the other.  If students from the ranks of the best and brightest of these elite schools find it necessary (if not obligatory) and confidence boosting to attend lessons, then the argument could be advanced that every other student in the Guyanese education system needs to attend, too.  That just might extend to me, too.

Having expressed dismay and disgust at the existing situation, I think that two years in is enough time for the Minister of Education and his team to wrap hard arms around this lesson monster and cage it to more manageable proportions.  If there is reluctance to do so, then the next best option would be to police it from all points.  As advocated before, there is the GRA (tax compliance); the Guyana Fire Service (safety codes); the Ministry of Education (syllabus integrity); the GTU (member conduct); and the PTAs (student welfare), which all have a part to play.  These groups need to be energized and focused on bringing the microscope to bear on those education practitioners who imperil students, pummel taxpayers; mislead parents; and detach the future from the grasp of the most enfeebled in our midst.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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