Given the present condition of education practice in Guyana, one would have expected that for the benefit of the Guyanese public, and in an effort to garner fresh ideas on alternatives or the way forward, that some of the activities featured during Education Month would have been devoted to a series of detailed examinations and discussions of some of the critical issues with which the public education system is confronted.
Since the establishment of public education in the early nineteenth century, it can be concluded that past and current educational policies and practices have not served the majority of Guyanese and Guyana well. Fifty-one years after being granted the opportunity of managing our own affairs there is an absence of any national consensus. In many ways we have become a more divided society. Standards continue to fall in almost every area of human endeavour, and as a consequence there is widespread corruption, criminal behaviour, environmental degradation and decadence. In addition to becoming the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere, many Guyanese are greeted with disrespect and derision in their travels throughout the Caribbean region.
To be historically precise, our inherited educational practice was not designed for human development. It was designed primarily for the control of the minds of the former enslaved and their descendants by ensuring that they became meek and docile.
Throughout the past eighteen decades there have been several educational practices (and outcomes) that have contributed to the present state of affairs. For example: a) Guyana educates for export. Guyana has always and continues to export its most valuable value-added products. The great majority of these value-added products, the graduates of our top secondary schools, who venture overseas to pursue higher studies, never return to the land of their birth to serve in any capacity. These are the students who during their public school careers have benefited from having the better teachers and educational facilities, and on whom a significant portion of Guyana’s annual education budgets have been spent. In more recent times not only have entire sixth forms emigrated, but it has been reported that Guyana loses eighty per cent of her university graduates.
- b) The education system is elitist. It does not only reinforce advantages at birth, but also promotes and sustains inequalities. Its emphasis on the National Grade Six Assessment for some secondary school placement (sponsored mobility), is the source of much stress and mental health issues in both adults and children. This might also be a significant contributing factor to the dubious distinction that Guyana has the highest suicide rate in the world. These inequalities are compounded with each passing generation. This makes the goal of social cohesion increasingly more difficult to achieve.
- c) Education policies and practices are not all-inclusive. Currently, the delivery of education only meets the needs of a minority of students. Not only is a significant portion of the curriculum irrelevant to the needs of a majority of students, but also to the needs of the Guyanese society and Guyana. The GRESALC/UNESCO Plan for Action for the Transformation of Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean has defined relevance as “the capacity of education systems and of the institutions to respond to the needs of their locality, region and country…” To illustrate the point: in this modern information age the potential of a country is no longer determined by the amount of natural resources in the ground, but by the quality of the ideas generated by its citizens. Yet, in our current school curricula and practices there is little scope for the nurture of creativity or independent thinking, as most learning is by rote. Further, neither Guyana’s Constitution, nor Guyana’s twentieth century history forms part of the secondary school curriculum. The contexts of ethnic violence that occurred in our not so recent past need to be widely known and studied so they are not repeated. There can be no nation building without social cohesion. There can be no social cohesion without ethnic reconciliation, and there can be no ethnic reconciliation without the acknowledgement of historical truths. Failure to give adequate attention to the more encompassing and humanizing purposes and outcomes of school curricula has not only made many Guyanese vulnerable to misinformation (fake news) and propaganda, but has also condemned them to cruder modes of behaviour.
- d) The academic curriculum which favours verbal ability discriminates against male students whose abilities and interests tend toward the psychomotor – the combination of mental and muscular activity. As a consequence many male students find school uninteresting, are not motivated and eventually drop out, or are pushed out. A number of male dropouts become engaged in crime and other antisocial activities.
- e) A capacity assessment conducted by the World Bank around 2000, concluded that the Ministry of Education did not have the capacity to manage the education system. This lack of capacity limited the ministry’s ability to execute required research, and find solutions to the myriad of problems that emanated from unresolved issues. Since that time the situation has deteriorated. f) There has been insufficient educational research by scholars in the field.
Through the past four decades or more, not sufficient attention was paid to Guyana’s public education system by scholars in the Faculty of Education (now the School of Education and Humanities), University of Guyana. It is inconceivable that teachers can be adequately prepared to function effectively in a system of which so little is known. The future viability of the University of Guyana itself as an institution of higher learning is intricately bound to the quality of the education process at the lower levels of the public education system.
- g) Throughout the decades insufficient financial resources have been allocated to the education sector. Recent global research by the Pew Research group in the USA suggests that the countries which spend a high proportion of their national wealth on education do not spend much on public order and safety, such as policing. Those countries that spend lowest on education end up spending the most on public order.
The examples cited above represent only a partial sketch of the stark realities that characterize our education system. For some time now the situation in the education sector can be described as seeing the trees, but failing to see the forest. To transform this system into a quality education system demands all hands (including retirees) on deck; a broad multi-sector approach that is both collaborative and cooperative. If education in Guyana is used correctly it will build for us a peaceful, caring, sharing, democratic and prosperous Guyanese nation with the capacity for sustainable growth and development. If continued to be used incorrectly, it will continue to destroy us.
Clarence O Perry