Shaun Samaroo’s ‘Being a cause for solutions’ (SN, August 29), is a novel variation on the theme ‘Yes we can’ that characterized President Obama’s 2008 campaign. It is very reassuring when a member of the younger generation issues a call ‘to arms’ in the pursuit of “a national ethos of optimism, where we see solutions, and work on causing inspiring results.”
There is a message in Samaroo’s challenge and that is: Since all of our problems are man-made, then their solutions lie with us. Implicit in this challenge are opportunities for all Guyanese regardless of ethnicity, ideology, and social standing to change our behaviours – the way we feel, think, and act in order to make Guyana a much better place.
However, one has got to be realistic. Many Guyanese have endeavoured to find solutions and to make a good life accessible to all, but have, invariably, come up against a stacked deck that includes among other things poor governance, discrimination, corruption, widespread illiteracy, and an almost complete erosion of the rule of law. Many persons became frustrated, disillusioned, and eventually have opted out. The end-result is our continued failure to realize the 1992 promise of “the return to democracy.”
Of all the problems cited by Samaroo it is suggested that priority should be given to the “crisis of illiteracy,” since literacy is critical to the achievement of progress in all areas of human endeavour – particularly in our struggle for a government of the people, by the people, and for all the people. It should be noted that some time ago Eric Phillips had also issued a call for a national conversation on literacy. We ought not to forget that democracy stands on two pillars – one is universal suffrage, and the other is a literate and educated citizenry.
This is precisely why the education of all citizens is the single most important issue in our country, and will remain so, way into the foreseeable future.
Illiteracy in Guyana is more widespread than is commonly believed. As our society developed, our literacy requirements have also increased and have become more complex. Knowing just the 3Rs is no longer sufficient. Scientific, environmental, computer, and financial literacy are among the new imperatives.
It is fair to say that one of the expectations or objectives of our investment in a school system is the hope that at the end of their school careers young citizens would possess an appropriate and adequate standard of literacy. The universal achievement of this objective not only continues to elude us, but it would appear that the percentage of illiterates produced by our school system increases each year. This phenomenon impoverishes the social environment, as many of these illiterates soon become social deviants and maladjusted parents. In turn, the upbringing of their numerous offspring is adversely affected by poor parenting skills. A bad situation is made worse as a vicious cycle or downward spiral is set in motion. The problem with which we are now confronted is what we can do to slow down, stop, and ultimately reverse this descent.
Confronting illiteracy is a huge task that requires a most comprehensive strategy, an enduring commitment, and the mobilization of vast resources of all kinds – human, financial, and material. The school system has a major responsibility to discharge in this campaign. However, only a small aspect of this responsibility is addressed here.
It would be to our advantage if we adopted a more realistic perspective when addressing problems confronting the school system. We need to stop thinking in terms of primary or secondary or tertiary as separate school levels. The school system must now be viewed in its entirety – as a whole consisting of smaller interlocking and interdependent mini-systems. Objectives are therefore no longer level specific, but become the concern and focus of the entire system – they must now be seen as system objectives.
The efficiency and effectiveness of our literacy campaign demand the identification of loci where inputs would have a multiplying effect and result in a maximization of impact. One such locus is the University of Guyana.
It is likely that the university by virtue of its status at the apex of the system, its relationship with, and potential to influence other levels of the school system, the wider Guyanese society, and the quality of its intellectual life is one such locus. It is therefore proposed that the Learning Channel (LC), now located at the National Centre for Education Development (NCERD), where it is severely underutilized, be relocated on the University of Guyana,Turkeyen campus where far more resources are available for exploiting more fully its potential to help overcome widespread illiteracy.
There are many benefits to be derived from the relocation of the LC: 1) university courses can be broadcast at times that would greatly reduce the need for teachers to leave their schools to attend classes at the university. This should have a positive effect on student achievement and classroom decorum, as well as other school activities; 2) enrichment programmes to meet a variety of needs in the wider society (agricultural workers, health workers, housewives, parents, retirees, senior citizens, students, and other categories of workers) can be aired at convenient times daily and on weekends.
This would also have a positive effect on the social environments in which the younger generations are nurtured. 3) The Faculties of the Natural and Applied Sciences, Social Sciences, and the School of Environmental Studies could assist in the implantation of scientific, financial and environmental literacy in the general culture. In turn this should assist in the acquisition of certain mathematical concepts. And 4) it should be evident that based on benefits 1, 2, and 3 alone, that the return on investment would be infinitely greater than it is at present if the LC were to be relocated to the UG Turkeyen campus.
The above list of benefits is by no means exhaustive, and there are other strategic loci in the school system such as teacher education and the core curriculum where certain inputs would have tremendous impact in the fight against illiteracy.
However, the struggle against illiteracy is of necessity both collective and collaborative in nature. Other stakeholders are invited to come on board and be a cause for solutions.
Clarence O Perry