As over fifteen thousand of the nation’s pupils prepare to write the National Grade Six Assessment, it is fitting that we should address some of the related concerns surrounding the assessment and its perceived or real implications vis-à-vis education in Guyana in general. It is my opinion that many of our children writing this assessment are placed under an inordinate amount of pressure – I have had first-hand exposure to this on numerous occasions. This phenomenon is rooted in various historical elements of our country’s education system. It would have emerged to a large extent from a pre-existing belief pattern that one’s only chance of ‘doing well’ in life, depended on that pupil earning one of the highly coveted, very limited places at the more ‘elite’ secondary institutions.
These institutions far outstripped their counterparts in relation to educational output. It is understandable that parents, wanting the best for their children, would set their sights on the highest level of attainment possible – regardless of what that child’s academic realities were. It must be recognized, however, that this served to set up a large percentage of our young people for ‘failure’; given that it was simply impossible for the numbers who aspired for these few places to gain access to those institutions. In turn, many capable, hardworking students were made to feel sub-par and unappreciated; an experience that I am sure would have had a significant impact on their psychological make-up and overall attitudes about education. Added to this, schools were also stigmatized, relegated to sub-standard positions which fed into a culture of underachievement that was extremely difficult to overcome.
Recognizing that this was unhealthy for the education system and the development of the country by extension, the Ministry of Educa-tion took some specific steps to bring greater parity to education. Policies focused specific attention on what would make secondary schools, spread across the country, more effective and efficient. Investments were made to upgrade institutions, where necessary, to facilitate a greater scope of educational offerings – a recognized differentiating factor.
In addition, investigations were done in relation to the structural and procedural barriers which impeded the potential advancement schools could make. This led to a restructuring of the secondary placement policy to bring about more equity in the disbursement of the secondary cohort. Similar considerations were factored into processes such as the placement of teachers and the allocation of material resources. Significant work was done to ensure that parent teacher associations and school boards were functional and key school-related organs such as student councils were created where they did not exist. A tremendous amount of work has been done with the single goal of ensuring that the nation’s children, regardless of where they access education, have a viable chance for success in the system and by extension, in life.
We have not fully attained this, but any honest appraisal of the system would recognize that there is a much wider spread of the educational resources than ever before and that children in locales all across this country are emerging from their secondary schools with the requisite foundation and matriculation requirements for higher education – one of the key goals of secondary education. We now have significant numbers of students in schools in Essequibo, West Demerara, Berbice, Lethem, Santa Rosa and Linden emerging from their respective secondary schools and transitioning to the University of Guyana and other institutions of higher learning. The most noteworthy of these is North Ruimveldt Secondary, which has made the single largest improvement of any school in the country over the last three years and has earned itself an improved ranking in the ministry’s placement system.
The fact that the students who topped the Caribbean at CSEC over the past two years came from different schools in Essequibo is a clear indication of my point: Schools spread across this country have been producing and can produce even more if we, as a nation, do what is necessary to continuously support them.
As such, I plead with parents and education stakeholders to work with us to erase the stigmas by opting in and supporting programmes aimed at improving our schools. The system is by no means perfect, but there are highly encouraging signs of progress which should be recognized and supported. Value your children’s performance at the National Grade Six Assessment and support them and the institutions at which they are placed. Participate in the PTA and other school organs to help us assure our children the quality of education they deserve. That is the only way that we will unleash the true potential they possess, our institutions possess and move the developmental agenda of our nation forward.
Chief Education Officer
Ministry of Education