“There is a literacy problem in Guyana. Indeed it is estimated that there is a 21 percent rate of absolute literacy in Guyana, and an overall functional literacy rate that is just over 50 percent. This state of affairs is due in part to weaknesses in the education system and in part to the absence of a culture of literacy in many home environments. As a result of this constraint many students graduate with low levels of literacy and have little or no opportunity of developing into functionally literate citizens.” – National Development Strategy

President Donald Ramotar presides over our nation, and our people suffer an abysmal 21 percent literacy rate, a fact that the National Development Strategy emphasized years ago.

Ironic it is that late President Dr Cheddi Jagan drafted an international blueprint for a new global order that focuses on worldwide human development, and here at home we cannot develop and manage the literate human development of our own citizens.

President Ramotar stands personally responsible, as Head of State, for the development of Guyanese. That’s his mandate, that’s his responsibility.

Ways of looking and feelingAlong with the Minister of Education, Ms Priya Manickchand, and his Cabinet, the President of this country must see that Government’s ultimate task is to develop our citizens, especially the young generation.

This governing Party, in power back in the 1990’s, drafted the National Development Strateg y, a document that President Jagan upheld as the blueprint of our future, of what he had dubbed our “new dawn”.

Today, in the Knowledge Age, in this 21st century global village, in 2013, nearly two decades after Government released its Development Strategy, everyone across the nation agrees that our rate of illiteracy is shameful, disgraceful and a national crisis.

Government could say that over the past two decades it made an effort. With school buildings renovated and in good physical shape, with over one billion US dollars budgeted in that time to Education, and with Education this year taking up the single largest chunk of the national budget, we see clear signs that Government is making an effort.
But it’s all a failure.

Our education system lags way behind the rest of the world.
So broken and miserable is our education system, and so long neglected in terms of the quality of human resources, that now the very leaders of the system lack the essential skills to transform the old paradigm. They lack the ability to see the new global Knowledge Age. Officers of the system, teachers, and UG graduates who work in the system, consistently fail to demonstrate the professional know-how, innovative thinking and knowledge management skills to man this crucial sector of our nation.

Not only is the system broken, but, worse, the human resource skills available to transform it into a world class 21st century knowledge engine are severely inadequate.

We saw the US Embassy, in a laudable and welcomed move, organize a clean up campaign for Georgetown. After decades of nastiness, the dirty state of our city evoked a new awareness, a new urgency.

In the National Assembly, our opposition Parliamentarians found a new zeal for public accountability. Government ministers preach a constant message of macro-economic progress and macro-projects. Government found the resources to develop the Berbice Bridge, and now the international airport, roads and a massive hydro project.

The private sector, caught up in a dizzying construction race, also steams ahead.

In the non-profit and community service sector, we see advocates champion the rights of women and tolerance and so on.
Absent across the society is this deep care for the state of our children and young people. We neglect the literate development of our people. Very few advocate for this national crisis, this disgraceful disease of illiteracy, this scourge upon our people, to be eradicated.

The onus is on the President of this country to personally stand up and speak out against the continuing free fall of the quality of our human capital. Nothing is more valuable than our people, and their personal development.

We see lots of talk, consultations, papers and expressions of concern. We see too few actions and results taken to bring about a transformational difference.

The nation would welcome President Ramotar’s personal intervention, to take on the literacy crisis as a concern of his, and to mandate an emergency national effort, involving Parliament, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, Government, and the international missions and embassies.
Given the lack of vision and strategic leadership coming from his Presidency, the nation would welcome this focus. As a nation, we drift from one acrimonious issue to the next, picking projects that generate division and strife.

A national emergency project to re-align our nation with the 21st century Knowledge Age, would attract all Guyanese, both home and in the Diaspora, both Government and Opposition, to join hands in a worthy national cause.

When President Ramotar enters his office every day, the thing uppermost in his mind should be the human resource quality of the Guyanese citizenry. What else could be more important?

With the Internet opening the doors of the global library, of the global reservoir of knowledge, to every individual Guyanese, how could we have fallen to such a low as this?

Our leadership failed our people. We promote role models who ‘back-ball’ on stage to lewd music, instead of those who read and write literature; we fund pop culture, with private companies pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into pop music concerts and nonsensical entertainment; our funding for the arts and humanities, human development programmes at community centres and the libraries, and a vibrant knowledge industry, from Government and the private sector, lacks depth and substance.

We have become a society that cares little for the mind.
When we look around, we faint as we see little signs of hope.
But President Ramotar could become that figure of hope, that advocate and champion of a national emergency literacy programme, for books to become popular as pastime, for literature to play a foundational role in our schools, for our homes to be a place of intelligent conversation, of parent-children interaction that fosters human development and cultivates a love of developing the mind.

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