Within the past weeks, four very significant contributions have appeared in the press that are intricately related to each other: ‘The rise of inequality,’ by Christopher Ram (Sunday Stabroek, May 19); ‘Ministry pushes for early access to nursery education,’ (KN, May 19); ‘Unhappiness at Independence,’ by Henry Jeffrey (SN, May 29); and ‘Democracy and inequality in Guyana’ editorial (KN, May 29).
Christopher Ram’s column cites various areas in which inequalities are on the rise: incomes, education, health and the accumulation of wealth, and he suggests that our (immature) politics is largely to be blamed. He quotes from the book The Spirit Level which says “that countries with greater disparities of income fare far worse on all social indicators, from higher murder rates to lower life expectancy.
“It argues that inequality perverts politics as the economically powerful wield an unhealthy clout over a plutocratic elite.” This is a common occurrence in Guyana. Witness Yarowkabra coal producers ordered off the proposed B K Int’l sandpit.
In addition to social and economic insecurity and instability, inequalities engender lots of unhappiness. Henry Jeffrey argues that “the pursuit of happiness is axiomatic and most people believe that the task of government should be to attempt to maximize our happiness.” He poses the question, “should we not use the new insights into human happiness to do just that?”
In the follow-up discussion, ‘Governments should not seek to maximise happiness’ (SN, June 5), Jeffrey suggests (for reasons he states), that governments should restrict themselves to providing the constitutional elements that will make for a happy society.
Hence, given our present economic, political and social predicaments, Guyanese would expect that government’s policies would be designed to arrest and reverse various
inequalities that should result in a greater degree of happiness among citizens.
At this particular juncture, it is worth the while to note that Iceland, which has one of the highest densities of gun possession per household in this world, also has, virtually, little violent crime. This is attributed to the fact that there exists very little inequality of any kind in Iceland.
KN in its editorial referred to above gives a brief discussion of the travails and vicissitudes of emerging democracies that invariably give rise to a range of inequalities. The editorial suggests two primary strategies for reducing inequalities that can be implemented: universal policies of social assistance; and targeting assistance more narrowly to make sure that it benefits the poor within a social democratic order.
Given all of the above, I extend a qualified welcome to the announcement that the Ministry of Education is pushing for early access to nursery education. I say qualified welcome, because despite the unimplemented Freedom of Information Act, I have found it increasingly difficult to obtain information from the Ministry of Education. As a consequence I am unaware of the scope, or specifics of the “push for early access to nursery education,” and whether it is to be universal, or targeted.
In our context of building a nation of one people with a common destiny, one of the primary purposes of education must be the reduction of inequalities. Early access to “high-quality nursery” (early childhood) education if targeted to those with the greatest need would be an extremely significant intervention aimed at the amelioration and reduction of the effects of existing social and economic inequalities. However, a prior survey must be done in a transparent manner in order to identify those children who have the greatest need.
Reference can be made to the Perry (no relation) Preschool Project carried out from 1962 to 1967, in the USA. The research report is published by the Coalition for Evidence-based Policy, under the rubric ‘Social Programs That Work.’ The project was targeted and provided high-quality preschool education to one hundred twenty-eight three and four-year-old children living in poverty and assessed to be at high risk of school failure. The children aged three participated in a two-year programme, and the 4-year-olds in a one-year programme. Evidence of the effectiveness of the project was evaluated when the participants reached the age of twenty-seven, and again when they reached the age of forty. The findings were amazing!
As someone said, “It is difficult to be educated and live in poverty.”
Clarence O Perry