As a boy growing up in Guyana in the 1970s, I took it for granted that my peers were either “bright” or “dunce.” The former group, the “bright” children were seen as attentive, demonstrated understanding of key concepts, and were able to pass examinations well. Students in the latter group were seen as disruptive, slow to grasp key concepts, and struggled to maintain good grades and pass examinations. The Common Entrance examinations separated the “bright” from the “dunce.” The brighter children went on to secondary schools while the others either attended community high schools or as was popular in remote areas were relegated to rice fields, became cane-cutters, or assisted with the family business. Others became apprentices, worked along with craftsmen and learned a “trade.”
The classification of children as either “bright” or “dunce” has not changed in principle in Guyana since the 1970s. In fact, the classification highlights a core problem in the education system in Guyana: the general inability of successive groups of educators and policy-makers over a period to realize that children learn differently. If educators and policy-makers really understood the tenets of pedagogy, provisions would be made in the current curriculum to accommodate the diverse learning styles of our children. When provisions are made for the diverse learning styles of our children, the education system is more likely to capture a larger number of children who would have otherwise languished and settled to providing menial tasks in the economy. Think of the many adults and children in Guyana who were and still are victims of a broken education system, one that has contributed over time to a very limited pool of educated workers, or more specifically a limited pool of workers with specific vocational training and technical knowledge.
Education must be seen as the engine of long-term growth in Guyana. We cannot allow a Russian roulette mindset to guide our education system and determine the outcome of our human resources and national development. Human resources are critical for the economic stability of Guyana. To circumvent the current socio-economic, political, and environmental issues in Guyana, a sensible education strategy at all levels from nursery to university must be in place. The education strategy must have an all-inclusive range of vocational and technical schools and alternative education programmes to balance the demands for skilled and service personnel.
The current education system is failing to produce enough students to enter our own university system because of the low passing rates for Maths and English at the CSEC. The teachers are paid low salaries, many are not properly trained, and those who are trained leave for greener pastures. If the current trend is not reversed shortly, an even greater threat to the development of our human resources looms. This is damning for a country that once was perceived by other Caribbean nations as the bread basket of the Caribbean.