$43.1 billion earmarked for ‘quality education’ at all levels

Government has earmarked $43.1 billion or 17.2% of the proposed 2017 national budget for the education sector, where it hopes to provide “quality education across all levels.”

“Government recognizes that the problems which beset the sector must be tackled at the core, beginning from early childhood through to university and beyond,” Minister of Finance Winston Jordan said when he presented the proposed budget to the National Assembly yesterday.

The proposed allocation is $3 billion more than that which was allocated in the 2016 budget, which was heavily focused on improving the quality of education in the hinterland. It also continues a trend of increasing allocations under this administration as $31.8 billion was allocated in 2015, and $32.3B in 2014 under the previous administration. 

The “depressing” performance of students in Mathematics and English Language at the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examination and, particularly, the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), are among the issues that the government hopes to address in the sector.

Jordan reported that of the 14,386 students who wrote the 2016 NGSA, only 14% or 2,014 students were able to achieve a passing grade in Mathematics and less than 50% achieved passes in English.

Jordan stressed that these results represent a crisis since “over 12,000 of our children were not numerate, while more than half of those writing English could not sufficiently comprehend our official language to attain a 50 percent score.”

“We, therefore, have to ensure that we properly diagnose the problems and apply solutions that seek to structurally change the mode, scale, and regional appropriateness of interventions,” he said.

Among the measures cited to improve the quality of education offered within the school system is strengthening the early childhood development system in the country and the development of two model schools that are of the highest, modern, infrastructural standard and can facilitate the incorporation and testing of new and innovative technology, creative delivery and learning techniques and environments, and contemporary learning materials and curricula.

According to Jordan, “these schools will remain centres of education innovation permanently.”

The government has already unveiled its $337.4 million Programme for Emergency Education Reform (PEER), which provides an initial and rapid response intended to administer diagnostic and needs assessments across the country for school, class, and child; recruit and retain mathematics specialists; train school administrators for improved monitoring; train teachers in content and methodology; roll out a parent involvement strategy in every region; and expand, immediately, the number of class periods assigned to mathematics at both the primary and secondary levels beyond the existing four periods.

Additionally, Jordan said the ministry will commence and complete the curriculum reform across the entire public education system as a comprehensive curriculum reform has not taken place since 1999.

The school feeding programme, which was allocated $1.9 billion last year, has received the same allocation this year, while $578 million has been allocated for the purchase of textbooks. There is no mention in this year’s budget presentation of the school uniform programme, which was allocated $424.2 million in 2016.

Jordan said the school feeding programme and the purchase of textbooks are expected together with the President’s 5 B’s Programme to result in improved attendance, attentiveness, and productivity.

The government also intends to spend over $3.5 billion to “address issues of overcrowding and facilities’ improvements.” These sums will be spent “to construct, extend, rehabilitate and maintain schools, teachers’ quarters and other buildings,” the minister said.

Some of the new schools slated to be completed in 2017 are the Yurong Paru Nursery and Hiowa Nursery in Region 9, Bamia Nursery and Primary in Region 10, and Baramita Nursery in Region 1.

Jordan also referenced the recently launched One Laptop per Teacher Initiative, under which he said 9,500 laptops will be distributed to teachers countrywide to improve classroom instruction and productivity. It is also the government’s intention to have 600 trained teachers join the 481 who entered the school system this year. These augmented numbers are expected “to afford each student increased quality contact time.”

Within the area of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET), $2.4 billion will, according to Jordan, be invested in the coming years to improve learning outcomes of students at the secondary level, with the aim of expanding the pool of employable, certified labour that can adequately bridge the skills gap. For 2017, $2.5 billion is allocated for TVET interventions countrywide.

“This investment will see the expansion of TVET programmes into our four hinterland regions, while special focus will be placed on improving access for persons with disabilities,” the minister explained.

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The University of Guyana, which was allocated $3.2 billion in the 2016 budget, will be provided a $2.9 billion subvention this year.  This sum has specifically been earmarked to support the university operations and construct a teaching and learning complex for mathematics and science.

“[The] national university remains critical to enhancing our human capital stock necessary for the diversification and ‘greening’ of our economy. We look forward to the on-going repositioning of the university and the efforts to generate revenues and pursue investments that will create a more financially sustainable institution,” Jordan said.

He added that the Student Loan Agency will be restructured to: ensure institutional sustainability, achieve efficiency in processing of student loans, enable an electronic database to improve client interactions and improve customer service.

Jordan said the government will also be taking its commitment to ensuring that all sectors incorporate “the fundamentals of a green economy” into the classroom as the Ministry of Education has partnered with the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) to reduce the usage and cost of electricity in schools.  “Having conducted energy assessments at 29 secondary schools. We have rehabilitated 1,870 watts of photovoltaic systems and installed systems at selected schools in the hinterland regions, so as to facilitate the resumption of the interactive radio instruction (IRI) programmes and improve lighting in these schools,” Jordan announced.

Even as he presented his government’s financial plans for the sector, Jordan made sure to address the importance of both teachers and parent to a child’s successful education. He noted that is must be recognized that a successful, well-rounded child is a product of his/her home environment, good parenting, and dedicated and competent teachers within a supportive and healthy community.

Jordan said there will also will also be an acceleration of the development of appropriate job descriptions and commensurate remuneration packages, in order to attract specialists and relevant personnel and to fill critical human resource gaps across the country by mid-2017. He said too that there will be training of all education-related personnel to improve the attitudes, motivation, and approaches to education delivery, with specific focus towards innovation in learning, redefining the duties and responsibilities of school administrators to ensure that sufficient time and energies are available for supervision of teacher-pupil performance and mentoring, and addressing the differences in learning methodologies for boys and girls.

However, he said too that increased financial allocations alone will not suffice to transform our sector, if teachers are either unpunctual, are frequently absent from classes, or when they do show up for classes, are deficient in classroom instruction and management. “It will not suffice if parents are not investing their time and effort to support learning outcomes. It will not suffice if a head teacher fails to care and to supervise. It will not suffice if a Regional Education Officer is not held accountable for learning outcomes. It will not suffice if our lecturers at university do not show up for class, fail to deliver the content, and are tardy in the submission of student grades, and it will certainly not suffice, if we as parliamentarians fail to prioritise the education of the next generation. All must change their attitudes towards educational development in this dear land of ours,” the minister stressed.

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