Are private schools providing real benefits to society?

Dear Editor,

I take my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson (a champion in the making) to daycare every day. I ask some penetrating and probing questions concerning the safety and care provided for him and I think I have the right to ask. I never felt at any time, that I am annoying the head when asking questions; there is always an answer or there is balance whenever there is a perceived misgiving on my part or that of the daycare. Some time last week I read someone’s letter concerning private schools springing up everywhere, and asking the administration to rein them in.

This letter caught my attention as a former chairman of a Board of Governors and Parent Teachers’ Association for over twelve years covering three schools. As chairman I have had my quiver filled with the arrows of experience. So much so that these experiences helped to catapult me into training and education during my year in London.

Editor, it is my perception that many of these private schools are operating with the licence to hire and fire teachers at their own whim and fancy. It is a fact that in Guyana there are Muslim, Hindu, American and Christian schools, and each of these schools imports their cultural or ideological aspects into their curricula, which I believe is their democratic right and choice.

In my professional experience, I find that some of these schools do not partake in national school sports, poetry competitions, national essay-writing competitions or even outings ‒ visits to the museum, the zoo, heritage sites or places of national interest.

These children are programmed to attend extra lessons or stay in class and do schoolwork. Extra-curricular activities may involve a PT officer teaching the children to jump around for half an hour every Friday morning. If what I perceive is true of some private schools then we can hardly expect a Caribbean athlete coming from any such school in the future.

It may be shocking to note that even the national songs of Guyana are unsung and the national anthem is heard only at graduation time. More shocking is the fact that these schools promote a kind of dictatorship in administration without considering the teachers’ input in a school. This is like standing in front of a class for the entire week without the participation of parents who can provide expert advice on the management and delivery of education to our children.

These are in some cases no plans in place for teachers’ appreciation day. And talking about teachers’ appreciation day, I recall as chairman of one of the top primary schools in Georgetown many years ago, I convened a meeting with parents and teachers where a proposal was made to host a fair to raise funds for the school. In my capacity as chairman I authorized a sum of money to be distributed to each teacher from the proceeds. I cannot remember any private schools in this nation ever going that way!

And what about NIS contributions, are they in order? Do all private schools adhere to the Laws of Guyana? What ethics and national standards do private schools follow? Is there no trade union presence within the institution? Does a trade union not ensure that teachers’ rights are protected?

It would be to the benefit of a school administration if there was no trade union to monitor the fairness of a teacher’s appraisal.

A teacher could be teaching fifteen to twenty years in one school and at her retirement she has nothing to look forward to, although the school administration draws on the energy and knowledge of their teachers year after year. In addition, who will be the advocate of a teacher who has been fired because they attended their graduation when they were instructed by the principal not to do so?

Do these private schools employ a health worker in the event of an emergency if a child is sick while in school? It makes me wonder if the administration is aware that the most valuable assets in my organization are people and not buildings.

What about exorbitant fees? What about the discrimination that goes on unabated, both against teachers and students? For the unsuspecting Guyanese parents these issues are irrelevant, as long as their child is enrolled in a so-called reputable school.

Finally, are private schools providing any real benefits to their staff or society? I perceive that there is stiff competition to capture the market, as I have seen a particular school in the city pull down their original building and replace it with a solid concrete structure. Another moved their location to a massive complex costing millions of dollars.

There is a thin line between greed and diligence. It is my firm belief that some of these schools would implement systems, schemes or structures that are designed to make them rich on the backs of hardworking dedicated teachers whose salaries are woefully inadequate. Some Guyanese are very naïve; they never imagine that some private schools are taking them for a ride.

 Yours faithfully,

Apostle Vanrick Beresford

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