Amid stinging criticism that the government had deliberately neglected President’s College, Education Minister Priya Manickchand yesterday pointed to the $241M set aside for the institution in this year’s budget and pledged that it will remain a school of excellence.
Speaking at the school’s 28th orientation, she said that each student at the facility is expected to receive $391,000 and said this is the “highest amount of resources moneywise that this school has ever received”. According to a release from the Ministry of Education yesterday,
she also announced a new board for the college which in recent years has seen physical deterioration in its facilities.
PC, the brainchild of former PNC Executive President, Forbes Burnham held its 28th orientation exercise to welcome the 2013 – 2014 batch of new students to the college.
The release said that Manickchand began her feature address by felicitating the staff at the college for their dedication.
“This is a school of excellence and its records over the years would have shown that the students who have come in here have groomed themselves and have been guided to be the best that they can be,” she said, according to the release. The minister introduced the children and parents gathered to the new board of governors of PC, which includes: Dr. Mahender Sharma (Chair-man), Francesca Vieira Deputy Chairman, Jennifer Bourne, Kwesi Anthony Isles, Coretta Mc Donald, Teresa Gaime, Aditya Persaud, Natasha Beerjit, Geneveieve Blackman, Michella Abraham-Ali, Joy Persaud, Patrick Findlay. A staff representative and a student representative are to be named. Noticeably absent from the list was the former long-serving chairman David deGroot.
The Minister said that despite the many challenges faced, PC has continued to “evolve as a premier education institution in Guyana.”
She added “In 2013 the budgetary allocation is GUY$217,073M and Capital investment is GUY$24M which amounts to a grand total of GUY$241,073M… this year each student is expected to receive benefits of GUY$391,000 per student. This is the highest amount of resources moneywise that this school has ever received.”
She declared that the investments in PC are yielding results.
“From 2007 – 2012, 100 percent of the students writing 14 subjects passed. Of the 29 subjects written, 14 of them got a pass rate of 100 percent, 3 of them 99 percent, 5 of them between 90-99 percent, 4 of them in the 80s, 2 of them in the 70s. The lowest passing rate of 67.5 percent was in French. While in 2007, 20 percent passed French, in 2012, 100 percent passed French, so even in this subject there was excellence.”
Manickchand called on the students to make the best of what the college offers.
“It is your duty now to take PC to the next level. This can happen once you apply yourselves and pay attention to your school work…I encourage you not to be totally focused on academics alone…pay attention to the other things that are happening in this school: the elocution, the sporting activities, the debates, the various clubs. Look after those amongst you who might not be doing their best,” she urged.
The release said that the minister praised the fathers who attended.
The release added that she “offered those present the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the school remains a school of excellence and that the students’ needs continue to be met at the highest possible standard.”
Earlier, the release said that former student and Guyana scholar Toussaint Boyce also addressed the gathering.
“It is important that you see PC as an opportunity to build character. Given all the negatives you will hear while here and that you will read in the press and that people will tell you to try to dissuade from staying at the school; use every disadvantage, every challenge, every time the water goes out or the lights go out; whatever it is as an opportunity to build character,” he said, according to the release.
Boyce also called on parents to be supportive of their children at the live-in facility.
“A lot of it depends on you (parents) having inculcated good habits in the home by doing simple things like letting them (children) know where yes ends and where no begins in certain things that they do.
For example, have them pay attention to their studies, turn off the TV, turn down the loud music, and ensure they listen to the right lyrics. Those habits are inculcated in PC,” Boyce said, according to the release.
He told the students gathered that even though he originated from very humble beginnings, he was able to stay focused, disciplined and committed in his quest to be an excellent student.
Earlier this week, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) accused the government of deliberate neglecting PC, saying that one of Guyana’s top schools was falling apart and in a deplorable state just ahead of the new school year.
The party lambasted the Ministry of Education for the state of the school, while questioning whether it was being allowed to fall into disrepair simply because it was a Forbes Burnham-led initiative.
“It is disgraceful, and a reflection of the approach to education by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic [PPP/C] that the Minister of Education allows this premier school of excellence to show such signs of neglect and abandonment just as Guyana prepares to observe Education Month 2013,” the party said.
The PNCR called on the ruling party and Manickchand to “stop playing the backward politics of spitefulness” with the education of children and get about the business of resuscitating the school by giving it the human and financial resources that it needs to fulfil its mandate.
“President’s College was one of the projects and schools built to elevate the development of education in Guyana. It was intended to institute a culture that would mold, propel and motivate students to become future leaders of our nation. Therefore, it is quite unfortunate that successive PPP Ministers of Education have not recognized the importance of investing time and resources to promote the concept which inspired the creation of President’s College,” it said.
“Is the reason for the neglect of President’s College because it was the brain-child of the PNCR founder leader, the late President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham?” the party also questioned.
Manickchand, in a comment on Facebook on the same day of the party’s release, called the statement “a very political, self-serving statement, however some fundamental changes are being made in management that should see some significant improvements in that regard.”
A visit to the school on Wednesday by Stabroek News found that the bridge leading to it is still undergoing repairs although workers were optimistic that it will be completed before school reopens on Monday.
In addition, several old students who spoke to this newspaper said that the school had deteriorated both physically and academically since they had attended.
“In our time, no one could have touched PC. We were on top. Now if you look at the results from the recent CSEC we are nowhere at the top. Yes we topped CAPE, but that is not enough,” an old student said.
Another old student said that the school once grew its own rice, had its own fishponds and reared its own cattle and pigs. But now, those ponds have dried up and rice is grown no more. “It is no longer seen as an honour to go to this school, in my time people used to be proud to go here, but not anymore,” the student added.
The PNCR’s statement also said that while the PPP/C has used the state-controlled media to boast about its government’s accomplishments in the education sector, what is not being highlighted and given prominence is the run down and neglected school buildings that are ill-equipped, outdated and unsuitable for training the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, business leaders and agriculturists.
“The absence of laboratories for science and information technology, the poorly constructed and maintained sanitary blocks with no running water, the low teachers to students ratio which results in large class room population that make learning, for some, not only a challenge, but in many cases, impossible,” the party said.