A Ministry of Education report of November 6, 2008 revealed that, up to 2007, 13,844 students had dropped out of the primary school system, representing 4% of the national population. The report continued: “… according to Evelyn Hamilton, Chief Planning Officer of the Ministry of Education, the situation is much worse, particularly in primary and secondary schools in hinterland areas like Region 1 and Region 9, where rates are more than tripled.”
However, the previous administration had significantly lowered those figures when the Ministry of Education, in March 28, 2014, reported that school dropouts had significantly decreased through the implementation of the Guyana Secondary Education Improvement Project, the objective of which was to increase the number of students with access to secondary school mathematics teachers, who were benefiting from continuous professional development nationwide. This project was one of several projected to increase the number of students in secondary schools with improved learning conditions in targeted regions.
By the time the previous administration had demitted office in 2015, Guyana had achieved the United Nations Millennium Development Goal in primary education and was well on the way to achieving the UNMDG in secondary education. This fact was underscored by impactful examination results in every region and, because of the requisite facilitation to educational resources, Amerindian students emerged shining stars in the firmament of Guyanese scholars.
Sadly, of recent times, there has been a reversal of the prior educational trends in hinterland communities for several reasons, but mainly due to socio-economic dysfunctions within those communities.
As obtained in times gone past, related by one Ministry of Education official in 2008, the current reversal now trending has been precipitated by learning disabilities, emotional problems, early adult responsibilities and parenthood; which are the major contributing factors to children dropping out of schools in recent times, merely within a two-year span.
Additionally, factored into this equation, is poor attendance, low education expectations, low socio-economic status, poor education of parents, a large number of siblings and not living with natural parents. The limited opportunities for academic success also inhibit higher education accessibility, exacerbated by constrained access to resources in schools as well as high pupil-teacher ratios instead of full complements of trained teachers contributing to the drop-out rates.
The implications and consequences of children dropping out of school will contribute to unemployment, a life of poverty and all its related social ills, which will evolve in a vicious cycle of less than healthy lifestyles for generations to come.
Additional consequences are pursuit of a life of crime and eventual imprisonment, leaving wives and offspring without protection and resources for survival.
According to the MOE official in 2008, “Dropping out of school also reduces the possibility of sustainable development in society as a whole because education is critical to improving health, nutrition and productivity.”
As we celebrate both Amerindian Heritage and Education Month, we must take cognizance of the increase in school dropouts in our Amerindian communities and its related ills. It is devastating and greatly distressing to see the reversal of over two decades of increased school attendance and the emphasis placed on education at the village level by the previous administration.
During that period, access to school systems and educational dynamics in hinterland communities across the country had been tremendously improved, with our children being afforded greatly enhanced opportunities in upgrading our standards in life through education.
Indeed, many of our children have returned with their academic successes in the various professions to serve their own communities in hinterland regions.
For our nation to return to an upward growth pattern, it is vital that all our children, especially those in the hinterland regions be given the opportunities and resources to learn and be able to develop their own communities through the requisite economic and extended support to sustain and improve academic output.
Naming Lethem and Mabaruma towns, for example, requires more than just that; it must be accompanied by educational and economic pillars that will see our hinterland communities and especially our young people – the leaders of the future ‒ provided with the requisite support at every level, to achieve their optimum potential for personal growth to develop themselves and to contribute to the development of their communities and, ultimately, their country.
It is important that the government of the day recognizes the imperative of governing for all the people of the land with equity and without favouring one community over the other. The Amerindian children of this nation should not be short-changed because of any prejudicial consideration and should all be treated equally.
Alister Charlie, MP