September marks the beginning of the new school year and it is also the time when Education Month is observed. As children returned to school this week, they would have heard references being made to the observance and its concomitant activities in which they will be involved, and no doubt will be made aware of the theme for this year’s commemoration: ‘Promoting wellness in communities through quality education’. It will mean very little to the majority – those who scraped by at this year’s National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. In fact, based on previous years’ experiences, there will be many calls to this newspaper and possibly others—mostly by parents, mind you—before the end of the month asking what the theme is.
Whoever wants an explanation for why this occurs only needs to look at the theme; it is uninspired and uninspiring. It is not a theme many children can identify with and therefore remembering it will be hard. Inevitably, probably because they must, teachers will give a homework assignment dealing with the theme. Parents, at least those who care whether or not their children receive a passing grade, will be frantically calling around trying to get the correct theme so they can help them.
This annual scenario has been occurring like clockwork for more than a decade. It is worth a close look as it can, along with other things, offer an insight to the doldrums in the education system. Minister of Education Nicolette Henry was reported to have said at the launch of Education Month on Monday that reform of the sector is a priority. It seems it will be moving full speed ahead with the establishment of a “Department of Education System Innovation and Reform”, according to the Department of Public Information (DPI). But is another reform what Guyana’s education system really needs? Innovation? Yes. But reform?
The changes made to the education system under previous administrations have done between very little and nothing to address the issues and anomalies that see thousands of children struggling with basic Maths and English throughout their school lives and carrying these struggles with them into adulthood and their work lives. When more than three-quarters of the 13,000-odd children who write the NGSA cannot score at least 50 per cent in either of the subjects which are deemed core academic disciplines, can reforms be said to be working? And when the pupils cannot master these subjects at the ages of 11-plus and 12 years old how many will move on to pass them at the CSEC examinations, particularly given that other subjects are added to the mix?
It will therefore be difficult, if not impossible, to promote wellness through quality education where such a thing either does not exist or is sadly lacking. A case in point lurked in the very press release issued by the DPI. “The Government of Guyana has as a principle objective of its policy to strengthen the administration of the 10 regions and to improve the delivery of education and other services,” was a quote attributed to Minister Henry according to the press release.
Meanwhile, in the typical cart foremost language employed by most politicians worldwide, it was also announced, reportedly by Minister Henry at the same event, that her ministry’s Education Month priorities are reducing the disparity in education, improving the quality of education by embracing the use of technology in the classrooms, and improving access by providing more transportation through the Three Bs Initiative.
As it stands, just one of these so-called priorities—the last one—has any chance of success over the period of a single month. Reducing disparity in education cannot be treated with in the short term. Despite its economic and financial connotations, the huge difference between those who become academically qualified at the end of their schooling and those who do not has several complexities woven into it. So even if the Ministry of Education had unlimited funds to throw at bringing disadvantaged students on par with their age peers it could not spend down said disparity. And as regards using technology to improve the quality of education, while this is a good talking point, realistically, there would be huge hurdles to overcome, like a stable electricity supply, security at schools for the technological equipment and training teachers who would have to pass on the knowledge.
It would be safe to say then, that given the complicated processes involved in two of the three priorities outlined by the Minister, Education Month’s achievement this year would be limited to what can be derived from the ‘Three Bs Initiative’. One hopes then that realistic goals would be set for the much-touted reform process.