There is a lot of work for everyone to do in education for a long time

Dear Editor,

I wish to thank President Granger for acknowledging and valuing Dr Rupert Roopnaraine’s continuing contribution to national development, work he has been engaged in since the 1970s, first as a non-state actor and more recently as Minister of Education. I find the media fury of his ‘defenders’ and protesters against the reassignment, by persons not known for focusing or even employing their powers or leadership or scholarship or resources or efforts to improve our education curriculum and methodology and work on behalf of our children, very disturbing.

The thoughtfulness and thoroughness needed to deconstruct and reconstruct education in Guyana cannot be accomplished by any Minister, Ministry of Education, or government.  Every one of us, and every community in this country, must take active responsibility for taking care of our children’s holistic development needs.

As an educator and past member of the Working Peoples’ Alliance leadership collective with responsibilities for education and communication, I am unhappily very aware of the long-standing and deep-seated issues compromising the ability of our education sector to meet our children’s current needs and the problem-solving knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours they must have as adults raising the next generation.

It is not only that the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours of many trainers, teachers, supervisors, officials, and administrators require systematic upgrading and radical transformation.

It is not only that their remuneration and conditions of service should reflect the value we place on education from nursery to university, and practical skills training institutions.

It is not only that the gender spectrum is fully represented in the student population, but not in the teacher population. It is not only that we fail to recognise this as a serious problem and a challenge we have to strategically plan to address so that all children have a range of role models across the gender continuum. And, it is not only that so many in the formal and informal education sector fail to accept that by continuing to defend, advocate, and practise corporal punishment they are teaching and modeling bullying, violence, abuse, and physical punishment behaviours.

My reference to the ‘informal education sector’ is meant to include parents, caregivers, and older siblings. The one area where our adult population richly deserve an ‘A grade’ is for effectively teaching violence as a conflict resolution tool.

It is not only that the physical and psychological spaces where children are ‘learning’ are not environments that any self-respecting adult can stomach. Take that vital little space we call a ‘toilet.’ Are we even aware of, or care about, the effects on a child’s body, mind, and spirit when he, and even more troubling, she, cannot, with personal dignity intact, empty the bladder or defecate when the biological need arises? I was relieved that the CoI drew attention to the oppressive schoolroom heat they suffered in attempting to carry out their investigations, but I don’t think any of its female members would have dared to use what passes for toilet facilities for pre-menstrual and menstruating girls.

And this is not even the whole story. To fully appreciate what we are up against in attempting to reform and transform the education sector, recall the national uproar against the humane and human notion that children should not be hit. Imagine, therefore, the response of the public to the idea of stopping all the test-preparing and test-taking and instead spending, say, the next two or three years, or as long as it takes, to focus all our resources on reconstructing our schools into pleasing places where children of all abilities are enthusiastic about attending every day. Places where children know that learning to read, write, calculate, and think critically will be enjoyable and effective experiences. Places where children know that their teachers are willing and able to listen non-judgmentally to the trials, tribulations, and traumas they suffer in their homes and communities, and kindly counsel them and the adults responsible for them. Places where children know that they will be learning about their maturing bodies, how to care for them, and how to care for the human beings they will be producing and reproducing in the not too distant future.

This, I know is what Rupert Roopnaraine wanted and still wants for our education system.  This is what I want. If this is what those concerned about his reassignment want, they should get busy. There is a lot of work for everyone to do for a long, long time.

Yours faithfully,

Bonita Harris