According to a Stabroek News report (December 12) the Minister of Education told the media that a private school education is in her child’s best interest. What a comfort to ordinary Guyanese parents! This represents a callous disregard for the people and the entire public education system. It is no secret that under the PPP/C regime the public education system has deteriorated, and what the Minister has indicated through her decision, is that she does not guarantee that her management and leadership of that system will be in the best interest of the nation’s children, since it is not in the best interest of her child. My advice, therefore, to the Minister would be to demit office if she does not believe in the system she has been entrusted to manage. Our children deserve a leader in education who believes in them, is passionate about education and would roll up his/her sleeves to ensure that everything is done to provide the avenues and opportunities necessary for them to succeed.
According to Ms Manickchand, the public school system would not admit her child unless that child had met the age requirement. Well, doesn’t every Guyanese parent have to adhere to this rule? Was she not aware that there was such a rule, or is the rule now a problem because it is personal to her? Further, is the message to parents of children who fail to meet the age requirement to simply enrol their children in private schools? If so, she should be reminded that, unlike herself and her cabinet colleagues, the average Guyanese parent cannot afford to send their children to private schools, owing to the economic realities they face daily. Contrary to what the Minister may believe, it is the desire of every parent to ensure that his/her child receives a good education. So, if the public education system is not in the best interest of her child one may conclude that it is not in the best interest of any other child. For many ordinary Guyanese, education is seen as the only means to break the cycle of poverty in which they may be trapped, and Ms Manickchand’s excuses might suggest she is not interested in using her office to deliver solid educational service and leadership to our children, thus helping them to break that vicious cycle.
I am reminded that in the just concluded US midterm election, in a small city in northern Virginia a Republican candidate was vying for a seat on the local school board. I watched as both members of the Republican and Democratic Parties, parents, teachers, social and political activists, and various civil society leaders came out to denounce the candidate and encourage people to vote against him. Their main reason for rejecting his candidacy was because he had educated his older children through the private school system and currently had younger children enrolled in private schools. The people, in one voice, chided him for wanting to be a leader in the public school system when, according to them, he certainly does not believe in that system. According to them, his mere act of sending his children to private schools is an insult to the public school system, so what good then can the children in the public school expect from him?
Let me point out here that this man was not vying to be the head of the school board, he was simply hoping to be voted in as a member of that board. In our case, Ms Manickchand is the head of the public education system, not merely a staff member of the Ministry of Education. She is a policymaker and the person who oversees the entire functioning of the system. It is, therefore, important that members of the public, parents, educators, legislators, union leaders and members of civil society begin to question her desire to work in the best interest of our children enrolled in the public school system. We owe this much to our children. The Minister’s attempt at justifying her action just cannot hold water. We are also aware that many of the children of government officials refuse to enrol their children in the public school system, so Ms Manickchand is not alone, but she must be the one to demonstrate leadership on this issue and encourage her colleagues to take the lead.
The Minister claims that just like every other parent she has a right to choose where she sends her child to school. Again, this comment demonstrates a lack of familiarity with some basic protocols regarding her job. Firstly, she is wrong to assume that as a minister of government, cabinet member and member of parliament, she is held to the same standard as an ordinary Guyanese parent. The Minister must know that when other parents elect to send their children to a private school their decision does not arouse the same kind of interest or suspicion. It is the job of the Minister of Education to know about the problems in the system, and by her decision she might be taken to be indicating that these problems are either beyond her capacity to fix or she could not care less about fixing them, simply because as a parent, she may have a ready alternative. People get their clues about how well the public schools are managed or fit for purpose from signals sent by people like Ms Manickchand, so she cannot think that her personal views and actions regarding schools are private matters.