I am writing in relation to the decision by government to impose a 14% Value Added Tax (VAT) on private education fees for students all across Guyana. It should be noted that I am one of many students currently pursuing Advanced Level studies at School of the Nations, where most of my peers and I envision a Guyana that will become the epitome of science and technology in the Caribbean. It’s obvious that this can only be achieved by a diverse, affordable, harmonious and well developed education system, not the taxation of it. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that we are unhappy with this tax infliction on something that is clearly a human right and by no means a commodity. Along with this our other significant concerns are the lack of consultation with us by government, the lack of transparency on the issue and the immediacy with which this has been approved.
I submit that, obtaining a well-rounded education gives you a competitive edge over the crowd. It’s a positive lifestyle change that requires massive effort and a desire my peers and I have been in pursuit of since entering secondary school. This aspiration is now being marred by uncertainty and has been put in jeopardy because of this 14% tax imposition on private education. I think this whole 14% ordeal is a bad idea and I can only see very limited positives unfolding from it. For instance, there will be an increase in the class divide as people with a less secure financial footing realize that their chances of attaining their academic pursuits are now being greatly diminished and, for some, completely crushed. Having more money than others doesn’t make you more of a human being, nor does it give you extra rights. Riches therefore shouldn’t automatically grant you the right to an education and an exciting career. Most of the rich will now have less of an appreciation for a diversity of people from all echelons of society and the less affluent will have to take up part-time jobs or seek loans in order to ‘buy’ their education. With this in mind, this tax venture seems to be a very slippery slope.
Moreover, attending private institutions and gaining qualifications from them will become a status symbol, an expression of having money rather than unwavering commitment, hard work and perseverance. The wealthier will acquire the more glamorous qualifications in subjects such as law, medicine and the arts, whilst those who grapple with the difficulties of accumulating the full fees for their education may be left with less illustrious honours. This taxation will then result in poor attendance at vocational courses available only at private institutions and will therefore exacerbate the present economic strain on our country. We will witness a decline in the types of jobs that stimulate our country’s economy and the number of workers fundamental to the blossoming of a society, like teachers and doctors, will plummet.
Furthermore, one must understand that the purpose of education is to refine society through the pursuit of learning and understanding. In Guyana, most of the internationally recognized qualifications, like Cambridge Advanced Levels, are provided by private institutions at a cost that is far lower than the same courses offered by our Caribbean neighbours, making education here more attractive to regional students. With the 14% VAT on private education Guyana’s fees will now equate to those of its counterparts in the Caribbean. This means that Caribbean students will have no need to leave their home countries to attend our institutions, resulting in a limitation in cross border ideas. For me, the significance of achieving an education is not only about obtaining a degree or zooming down a rewarding career path, but meeting new people from different backgrounds and different cultures, to enrich one’s humanity. This tax addition will sharply reduce the diversity of people in our educational institutions and further add to the class divide, depreciating the value of the higher education experience.
It’s worth noting that when the Constitution was written for the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, it specifically defined and demarcated the responsibility of our own government along with spelling out young peoples’ rights. The first set of young citizens’ rights is the “Acknowledgement of the aspirations of our young people who, in their own words, have declared that the future of Guyana belongs to its young people, who aspire to live in a safe society which respects their dignity, protects their rights, recognises their potential, listens to their voices, provides opportunities…” This is emblazoned right there on the pages of the Preamble to our Constitution. All of this means we are gifted with liberty; that our government is established to serve us, not the other way round, and our government has never been given authority to suddenly impose limitations on our liberty or on the liberty of future generations. Liberty means freedom, not subservience.