Three months after the Education Ministry launched a revised five-year literacy programme targeting students Grade Four and below, Minister Priya Manickchand identified accountability as the biggest challenge facing the initiative.
Manickchand made the pronouncement when questioned by Stabroek News on Friday during a year-end report on the ministry’s successes and further said that it was too early to determine the accomplishments or failures of the literacy programme.
“It’s way too early for us to determine whether it’s made a difference,” Manickchand admitted. She also explained that one of the texts created for the programme was not yet in the system.
Manickchand further noted that simply placing the resources in the school was not enough to truly tackle illiteracy in Guyana.
“The thing about it is that putting the resources in the schools is not going to do it alone; you need to change the way we see the importance of literacy,” Manickchand said. She went on, “We have to change how we train teachers to deliver on the literacy programme. We have to monitor persons.”
As a result, she opined, accountability was a key component in tackling illiteracy. “We said we want to teach this, is this happening?” she questioned. She also recounted two instances where she visited schools but resources had not been available though they had already been procured for the schools.
According to Manickchand, the literacy programme had also been hindered by the high costs of textbooks along with the inability of the system to recognise desired results. These setbacks saw the ministry embarking on the writing of two new reading series to encourage literacy.
The Roraima series has already been introduced into the nursery school system, while primary-aged students will be able to get their copies of the Atlantic Reader in the new year. Manickchand stated that the books were written by local experts with “the Guyanese Caribbean child in mind.
“The readers that were written…were guided by the international literacy standards and benchmarks that we expect our children to meet.”
She added, “… Once a child successfully finishes a chapter, we would know specifically what benchmark or standard they would have met in the effort to making our children literate by Grade Four.”
Additionally, she said, core texts in Mathematics, English, Social Studies and Science were procured for every single child in the public school system. “This is the first time in our country that we’ve procured these core texts for each and every single child across the country as personal copies,” Manickchand boasted.
Further, Manickchand expressed hope that the literacy skills acquired would exceed beyond grade 4.
Meanwhile, the Educa-tion Strategic Plan 2014-2018 is currently in the draft stage. According to the Education Minister, following the previous plan’s expiration in 2013, numerous consultations have been held throughout 2014 while the ministry drafts the new plan.
The plan is aimed at increasing the learning achievements at all levels of education and for all sub-groups. Further, it will be aimed at decreasing the differences and learning outcomes between sub-groups, especially between students in coastal and hinterland schools, Manickchand said. She added that the plan will focus on literacy, numeracy, science and technology.
In September, the Ministry of Education launched its revised plan and Manickchand had stated that literacy tests conducted from grades One to Six showed that only 32% of students were at grade level literacy.
The revised action plan will have the goal of pass rates of 60%, 65%, and 50% with grades One to Five at the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), National Grade two and Four Assessments and the Caribbean Secondary Certification (CSEC) Examinations, respectively.
Universal secondary education
Meanwhile, the ministry has claimed that it has ramped up its efforts to attain universal secondary education in Guyana and this will see the construction of three new secondary schools within the country in the coming year.
According to Manick-chand, these schools will be built at Good Hope, Yarrowkabra, and Westminster/Parfait Harmonie.
These schools are expected to accommodate some 2,600 students.
“We’ve not as yet attained universal secondary education in every region although we have attained universal secondary education in most of our regions,” Manickchand said. “We will not rest, however, until universal secondary education is available to all of our secondary-aged students,” she added.
Manickchand further said that construction for the $728 million Kato Secondary School is progressing smoothly and will be completed by early next year.
The exorbitant construction cost of the school had raised numerous eyebrows and Minister Manickchand on Friday maintained that the money was being used correctly. Manickchand further admitted that the project was the largest the ministry had ever encountered and undertaken.
An official of the Engineers Department of the Education Ministry explained that the engineer’s estimate for the project had been $680 million. The project was open to bids for several weeks before it was awarded to Kares Engineering Incorporated along with consultancy group Design and Construction Services Ltd (DSCL).
Additionally, Manickchand said, the area was chosen to alleviate an overcrowding issue at the Paramakatoi Pri-mary School. She added that it was also chosen due to its proximity to a waterfall; the minister said that a hydro-electric programme will be developed to provide electricity to the school.
“This school would allow us to take off many of the secondary children who are attending primary tops,” she said. “They go to a primary school and when they are finished they continue in the primary school with some secondary work, which is highly undesirable. So, wherever we can we will be expanding secondary education like this,” she added.