In 1997, in a working paper: ‘Message from a true patriot: Education, Social Justice,
Democracy, and Nation Building,’ which was perused by both the then Minister of Education, the late Dr Dale Bisnauth and his PS, Mr Hydar Ally, I noted the absence of any vision, or a sense of purpose or overall strategy for the quality of education that has the potential to equip Guyanese with the values and intellectual tools essential to undertake the challenges and seize the opportunities of the twenty-first century. I also said that I was extremely doubtful as to whether the hopes and aspirations of most Guyanese youths will be realized since it appeared that insufficient thought is being given to the function and purpose of education in Guyana and to its implementation in practice.
Today, some sixteen years later, not only is the government which has been in power since 1992 saying that Guyanese workers do not have the essential skills to build the Marriott hotel, and the GPL substations, but a former Minister of Education is reported to have said that more than half of the 18 000 students who leave school each year are functionally illiterate. This state of affairs threatens our yet-to-be-born democracy with still-birth. Much, much more has got to be invested in the education of Guyanese in order to develop and transform individual potentials into a national pool of higher-order technical skills and creativity.
Members of the government need to be reminded that it was never the intention of the colonial authors of schooling in Guyana to educate and develop individuals, or make schooling relevant to the needs of the colony, then known as British Guiana. As a result schooling in Guyana was always severely under-funded. School buildings and compounds such as St Barnabas, Regent St, Smith’s Church, Hadfield St, St Ambrose, Third and Light Sts, St Andrews, Stabroek Market Square, Comenius, Anira St, Freeburg, Norton St, Brickdam Secondary, Brickdam and Camp St, St Margaret’s, Camp St, Winfer Gardens, East St, St Winifred’s, De Abreu and Garnett Sts, Blankenburg, Cornelia Ida on the West Coast of Demerara, and the list can go on and on, are just like huge barns or storage bonds with little or no land space for students to play, or indulge in co-curricular activity, and are totally inadequate.
Since Guyana has vast tracts of unused land even within the Greater Georgetown area, we can begin to meet the needs of students, staff and curricula by constructing purpose-built schools and compounds with adequate land space given the following reasons:
1) Play and other extracurricular activities are extremely essential in the development of psychomotor and social skills, healthy lifestyles, and child development generally.
2) Education research suggests that noise decreases learning by as much as 30%.
3) The close proximity of school buildings to noisy streets and roadways means that the teaching/learning process in many classrooms is not as effective as it might be due to noise pollution.
4) It would facilitate the delivery of practical aspects of curricula – such as physical education and sports, workshops and agricultural plots.
5) When Guyana’s economic and social realities are taken into consideration, together with the need to leapfrog decades of underdevelopment, schools now have new and critical roles to play in the development of their respective communities. Therefore, land for staff and student residences where necessary, and community activities should be made available.
6) Quality education is not a luxury that can be afforded only after development and modernization have occurred; it is an integral part, an inescapable and essential part of the development and modernizing processes. The new and developing Leonora education and sports complex in Region 3 could serve as a model.
Further, current school practice is essentially the same as it was nearly two hundred years ago when it was used to keep our ancestors in bondage, and in servitude to support an imperial plantocracy. Why are we still using a nineteenth century tool to do a modern and highly complex twenty-first century job? Why are we still cultivating only an academic elite? Would the academic elite have all of the higher-order technical skills that are necessary to design and build the Marriott or the GPL substations, or to dam a river?
Guyana needs to garner and cultivate all the high-order technical potential that is eliminated by the so-called National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA). The NGSA is an administrative device that is being used because of the scarcity of quality secondary school places. It is an inequity. It is anti-educational. Some twenty or more years ago the Caribbean Council of Ministers declared that the 11-plus examination was the greatest obstacle to education in the Caribbean. It is anti-working class. And it is anti-democratic. What is needed is quality universal secondary education. This calls for a far greater investment in education on the part of the government. Not only must steps be taken now to provide an adequate number of quality secondary school places, but also to recruit adequate numbers of university educated graduate teachers to staff these schools.
Needless to say the above measures will cost far more than the 2013 budget allocation. When one considers the urgent need to raise standards in almost every sphere of Guyanese activity, especially in the security (military and law enforcement), and health sectors, the added investment in education should be considered a small price to pay.
All Guyanese suffer from government’s continued failure to fulfil the educational obligations of a democracy. We are all victims of a school system that is actually in full retreat from the 1992 promise of “the return to democracy.”
Clarence O Perry