Tales of poor literacy skills in this country fail to move Government with the urgency that this emergency requires.

Weeks, months, years go by with lots of talk and expressions of concern, but little action.

20130620samarooOur nation slid so far into shameful illiteracy. Government spent, in 20 years, more than a billion US dollars on “education”, with shockingly poor results in the development of our human resource capital.

The State strategy for solving the illiteracy problem lacks vision, innovative ideas and fresh thinking.

With literacy at 21 percent, according to the National Development Strategy, a government document, this emergency is a pressing crisis, impacting our social and economic well-being.

Youth Challenge International, a Canadian organization of young people who volunteer in global development, sends teams to Guyana every year to work, quietly and unassuming, in local communities to make a difference.

Canadian youth, Angela Mak, volunteered on such a stint as a Youth Ambassador to St Cuthbert’s Mission, in 2011.

In a blog post on a website* for Youth Challenge International, Mak expressed her dismay and shock at the alarming rate of Guyana’s illiteracy.

Here is her heart-breaking blog post on what she witnessed, in 2011:

“Flying into Georgetown, Guyana, my volunteer partner, Kasia, and I were foreshadowed with what was to come. Both of us were asked to fill out custom declarations forms for people on board because they couldn’t read.

Upon arrival to St. Cuthbert’s Mission, we were quick to discover that half of the classes in the primary school were without a teacher; the secondary school wasn’t much better. With the majority of children and youth at a reading level between Grade 2-4, the headmistresses of both of the schools emphasized that they wanted our help to improve reading, comprehension, and pronunciation.

My original lesson plans were dismissed when we entered the classroom and discovered many of the primary school children could not recognize the letters of the alphabet, nor could they spell words like “church”, “today”, and “milk”.

Having lived in the Mission for 3.5 weeks now, I really understand the cycle of poverty and how hard it is to break through. With this understanding, I also comprehend how it is that children don’t read. Here, they don’t have to read. There aren’t many job prospects. Less than 5% of the village is employed. University is expensive. With no money coming in, there is no money for university and therefore it is not even a consideration.

Furthermore, the children and youth in this village are not exposed to much outside the village. My Dad always says, You don’t know what you don’t know”. This statement could not be more accurate! These children just don’t know what else the world has to offer.

Everyday I feel a mixture of sadness, frustration, hope, reward, and inspiration. The children are curious and eager to learn. Every class I leave they ask when I’m coming back. Most often (weekends included) I am woken up by school children outside my window yelling,

“Miss Angela! Miss Angela! Are you teaching my class today?”

“Can I come and read with you?”

“Is there story time after school today?”

“The reasons for the lack of literacy and general education are multi-pronged. As previously stated, there is a lack of teachers and a lack of opportunity due to unemployment. Another reason is because the dropout rate in schools is high. As such the ministry of education has instilled on everyone pass rate to encourage children to stay in school. Though this helps to keep the dropout rates low, it also creates a problem. The education level in one class can vary greatly. In my Grade 4 class I have kids who should be in Grade 5 and I also have kids that should be in Grade 1. It is impossible to create a lesson plan that caters to all their needs, therefore many children aren’t at par with international literacy standards.

“The children and youth here need encouragement and I was deeply touched after a lesson on university and job prospects, a twelve-year-old girl, Orliza, approached me to ask if I would tutor her because she wanted to go to university. I see her 3 times a week for an hour and half where we cover all subjects! Earlier this week I had the pleasure of meeting her family. She is very fortunate to come from a supportive family that understands the value of education. As such we have begun discussing the logistics of having her move abroad to further her education when the time comes!” -Angela Mak, Youth Ambassador, Guyana 2011.

When a Canadian youth comes to our country, and leaves with such a report to the global village, we must hang our heads in shame.

How could we allow this generation of Guyanese kids, in a world where the Internet offers so much, in the 21st century, to suffer like this?

Over the past few decades we saw in Asia the impressive impact on society of Governments that focus on literacy development. We know these things. We have all the statistics. We spent the money – over a billion US dollars. So what’s the problem?

Clearly, our people suffer from poor leadership at the Ministry of Education, Cabinet and Parliament. How many of the bureaucrats read that blog post of Angela Mak? How many care for the child in St Cuthbert’s Mission who grows up unable to spell ‘milk?

What kind of nation could we build if we care so little for the intellectual development of our people?

Guyanese citizens ask these questions. The answers from Government? Either platitudes, or vain promises of vague action sometime in the undefined future.  Canadian youth, encountering our demise, leave our shores puzzled and frustrated and unhappy that our beautiful land fails to develop its young people.

In a thread comment on Mak’s blog post, one guy, Paul, said: “Heart-breaking. Guyana supposedly used to have the highest literacy rate in South America outside of Chile and Argentina. Something has gone very wrong.”

Government ignores such a plea for the development of our people.

* http://ycicanada.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/literacy-in-st-cuthberts-mission/#comments

This writer can be contacted at beingshaun@gmail.com

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