One would have expected that the Minister of Education, who was present at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of UG, to have apprehended the implications of the President’s remarks on embracing change for the practice of education in Guyana. But, after reading two recent articles: KN 13/10/13: “Resolute to perfect the education sphere…Priya Manickchand is a ‘Special Person’; and, KN 19/10/13, “Education sector defies criticism in quest to improve”, it would appear that the implications have escaped her. It is evident from the content of the reports that she is still unaware of the crucial change needed for the delivery of quality education. Given the context of Guyana’s social and economic realities/dilemmas, a shift in emphasis from the narrow academic outcome of “the best exam results”, to the more encompassing and enduring educational outcome – human/character development, has been an imperative for quite some time.
The Minister must understand that the issue of quality education is not simply a question of efficiency, but more importantly, an issue of effectiveness: “How can the education system be made more effective in meeting various needs that exist within the Guyanese environment? This involves numerous questions about purposes/goals, structure/ restructuring, organization/reorganization, management/leadership, and capacity/capacity enhancement.
Answers to these questions can be provided only by serious study, not by rhetoric or exhortation, and not by backslapping or photo-ops.
The Minister needs to realize that in addition to meeting the needs of some individuals, education policies need to be informed by prominent social and economic phenomena that are occurring within the wider environment, especially those that pose serious threats to our economic and social health. It saddens me to say, but some of the social and economic phenomena that are gaining increasing prominence in the wider Guyanese environment and that require our urgent attention are: 1) degradation of the environments – urban, rural, hinterland; 2) general erosion of respect for law and order; 3) corruption; 4) poverty; 5) criminal activity by youth – male and female; 6) loss of respect for life and limb; 7) alcohol and drug abuse by youth; 8) abuse of females of all ages by males of all ages; 9) youth unemployment; 10) rising inequalities; 11) shortage of higher level technical skills in the workforce; 12) decrease in local manufacture. These phenomena are all aspects of behaviour by the graduates of our education system that diminish the nation’s patrimony, drain the public purse, but contribute nothing to the nation’s wealth.
When the billions of dollars that have been spent in the education sector over the past several years are taken into consideration, should Guyanese be satisfied with those outcomes that are listed above? Is this not overwhelming evidence that there is an increasing lack of congruence between current educational outcomes and the needs of our society and the Guyanese nation? Doesn’t the above beg the question: “Should educational practice/policies in Guyana, and for that matter the Caribbean be different?”
Earlier this year a former Minister of Education revealed that half of the 18 000 who leave school annually are functionally illiterate? Has this phenomenon been researched? Will we continue to blame (and criminalize, and eventually execute?) the victims because they happened to have been born to the wrong parents? Or blame parents who themselves were failed by the same education system some generations before? Or, blame the teachers who have not been adequately prepared for today’s classrooms? Doesn’t this indicate to the makers of educational policy that the Ministry of Education and schools have much more to do than focus on improving matriculation rates?
Given the above context should not the Minister of Education (and her “good team”), rather than pouring new wine into an archaic wineskin, be asking the following and other similar questions: “What new purpose(s) should education in Guyana now serve?” “What are the needed educational outcomes that are not being generated by the system? “What structural, organizational, and managerial/leadership changes are needed in order to achieve greater congruence between educational outcomes and environmental needs?
What does the Minister mean by “always looking for results”? Why limit success to “academic success”? Please tell us about the research unit at MOE, and the research that has been done, and is currently being done? Are research reports published on MOE’s website? Do students in underserved and underprivileged areas benefit from dental and medical check-ups? What is being done to recruit and retain higher qualified and competent professionals for our classrooms? Why do you feel you must have a hands-on approach to see that education policy is being carried out in schools? Isn’t that the function of the “good team” of professionals within the ministry? Could not your time be more profitably spent developing needed policies and strategies? Why isn’t the learning channel relocated at the Turkeyen campus where its potential to enrich all of society is far greater than the present location at NCERD? Questions of this nature would have revealed how much of the Minister’s rhetoric has been transformed into reality. In closing I would remind the Minister that there are links/relationships between educational practice in Guyana and the following: rapid and unregulated population explosion (children making children), unemployment, poverty, underdeveloped communities, criminal activity, public health, creativity/innovation, production/productivity, the creation of wealth, and progress at the national level. It is common knowledge that it is within the Minister’s power to take the necessary steps to ensure the delivery of quality education so that all who come to school, both students and teachers experience success and develop a life-long love for learning. Whether or not the Minister does so must finally depend on how she feels about the fact that, to date, regardless of all her boasts and rhetoric, she has failed to do so.
Clarence O. Perry