A cursory glance at what is just the preliminary report of the Commission of Inquiry into the state of education in Guyana tells us – as if we needed to be told, anyway ‒ that the system is underperforming woefully and that the need for a comprehensive overhaul has reached the point of a national emergency. At a glance, the preliminary offering points to issues like the considerable underfunding of the education system, the chronic weaknesses in the physical infrastructure necessary for effective education delivery and what it suggests at various points in its submission is a serious weakness in the oversight regime necessary to monitor effective curriculum implementation. Underpinning all this – at least this is what the preliminary report strongly suggests ‒ is a severe shortfall in the requisite technical and managerial acumen necessary to respond effectively to the challenges facing the education system.
None of these revelations is particularly new so that the final report would only have served its purpose if its recommendations serve as a catalyst for beginning the process of implementing the long-promised reforms in our education system rather than, as has become customary in Guyana, ending up being worth no more than the paper on which it is reproduced.
If the issue of what happens to the findings and recommendations that eventually materialize in the final report is for another time, the preliminary report provides a fair measure of enlightenment on some aspects of the dysfunctional state in which the administration of education finds itself and which, in themselves, are deserving of an emergency probe. Indeed, when the matter of the ‘ghost’ teachers is considered, one has to wonder whether, apart from the swiftest possible remedial action, the whole affair does not merit the satirical attention of local theatre.
This is how one Regional Education Officer describes what she clearly suggests is a callous and unseemly racket which, in effect, contributes to denying the already under-serviced schools in her region, river access to their full quota of teachers. As soon as they are called, she says, they come with a document stating that they have a hole in their heart, asthmatic problems, back problems… and these documents are being signed by a hospital. In other words, it is not a matter of exorcising ‘ghost’ teachers but of bringing an end to an institutionalized scam that involves real teachers not wishing to be posted to schools in a riverine area.
If only for the reason that several questions arise here, a persuasive case may well exist for the practice to be subject to an official probe. Does the Ministry of Education not have in place some periodic schools’ inspection regimen that allows for the discovery of this kind of irregularity?
Is there a reporting role for the Regional Education Officer in the face of such a discrepancy? Would the Heads of the affected river schools not query the discrepancy between the presence of a name on the ‘books’ of his or her school and the absence of a corresponding person? Would such an issue not arise during the course of interaction between the Ministry of Education and the regional administration, thereby giving rise to some sort of corrective initiative? If it is indeed true that a state-run hospital is party to this counterproductive practice ought there not to be a way to bring the practice to an end?
So that while it seems that the ‘ghost’ teachers issue that has arisen out of the preliminary report of the CoI may not, in fact, be what it might be have been thought to be, the revelation, one might argue, is fortuitous in so far as it raises deeper issues that have to do with what would appear to be structural deficiencies in the architecture of education administration and a likely deficit in management skills at its disposal. Beyond the Ministry of Education, this is not a matter that should escape the attention of President Granger given his own stated concerns about the need to do more to improve the quality of education delivery.