Despite the huge amount of the budget allocated to the Ministry of Education, female education will not improve because Guyana continues to be a male dominated society where women are not seen as equal partners with their male counterparts. In fact, women are appendages to men and they are much poorer owing to a lack of education. Development studies have long identified education as the key to eradicating poverty and alleviating the dysfunctions with which people, especially the poor struggle. Contemporary studies have not only identified education generally, but the education of girls in particular, since they will become women and the primary stabilizers and leaders of families and societies. But in Guyana, the weaknesses that exist in the education system undermine positive education outcomes, which are consistent with issues of poverty affecting our young females/girls.
Higher education, for example, leads to longer life expectancy, better health, an improved quality of life over generations, better decision-making skills as consumers, higher lifetime average salaries, higher employment rates, greater job consistency, higher savings levels, and improved working conditions and mobility. Society benefits overall from the higher contributions educated people make to tax revenues, as well as their greater productivity, higher consumption and less reliance on government financial support. In addition there are the reduced crime rates, and greater ability to adapt technology.
Such conclusions are reasonable but the Minister of Education has made it obvious that she is not implementing policies that will make it easier for our female students to obtain a decent education, thus ensuring their long term sustainability economically. In fact, the Minister seems to be far more interested in photo ops, arrogant and abusive behaviour, party politics and propaganda than in the children of Guyana.
The fact is in Guyana, a relevant contemporary education must pay particular attention to girls for four key reasons: 1) they are more likely to be affected by poverty, and when they are poor, whole families suffer; 2) they represent a critical point of intervention on many issues before they become problematic; 3) today, an increasing number of households are headed by single women; and 4) women exert the strongest influence over families and social groups, even if men are fooled into thinking otherwise.
The recognition that girls’ education is essential to poverty reduction in Guyana comes both from the special roles they play in society and the special challenges they will face in doing so. This includes the risk of early pregnancy, which, whenever it occurs, can terminate their education and further trap them and their offspring into the cycle of poverty. We believe that the government should make every effort to reduce teen pregnancy in Guyana through robust family life education, access to contraceptives, and through opening students’ eyes to the range of options available to them other than having babies. If early pregnancy does occur, girls must be allowed to continue their education through provisions that include safe and accessible daycare. For many women, daycare will be an issue throughout their lives.
Many young women will spend considerable time providing care for their children or for elderly or disabled family members. This obviously reduces their time in the workforce and pushes them deeper into poverty. In a society such as ours, with a weak social welfare and education system, women’s role as unpaid caregivers is a major risk factor for increased poverty. Women are also disproportionately affected by domestic and sexual violence, which puts them at risk of homelessness, leads to the dislocation of their lives, and leaves the victims vulnerable to further abuse perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Now that the world is so small, and Guyanese are just a YouTube video away from seeing our shame laid bare for all to see, some of us, especially the wealthy should be embarrassed by the poor among us. The government and the wealthy should be ashamed to see so many homeless persons sleeping on pavements, so many beggars and so many prostitutes on our city street corners.
Ultimately, if the Minister of Education and her advisers are competent they should be putting forward compelling strategies to address the systemic problems in education such as how to reduce inequalities and create a system relevant to the 21st century. If she does this, women will become more independent, there will be less need for shelters, domestic violence will be reduced, and there will be fewer beggars and prostitutes on the streets.
These are serious challenges. Guyana is in a competitive marketplace, but is trailing on many development markers. Twenty-first century global economic conditions do not favour poorly run crime-ridden small states. Guyana’s socio-economic structure, with its vulgar inequalities, is unsustainable, as the people’s habits and desires exceed their ability to sustain them. The education system has failed our students, especially young girls and so far nothing has been done to correct this situation, thus making women poorer by the day.
Consequently, the country is in that grey zone, with low growth rates or stagnation, extreme inequality in wealth distribution; and inequality in the availability of and access to services like health care and education. We call on the PPP regime and the Minister of Education to make education more easily available to all, especially girls, who will be the women of tomorrow and a stabilizing force for society.
Harish S Singh