The PPP/C must not be denied its significant positive role in the transformation of education delivery in Amerindian villages and communities across Guyana.
Undoubtedly education is a sine qua non for preparing our population, moreso our young people not only for work, but for life generally. Indeed, education is continuous and ought to focus, inter alia, on academic, social, economic, cultural and intellectual development. An educated population is better able to combat poverty, to protect itself from exploitation, to position itself to enjoy more goods and services and collectively help promote democracy.
No honest Guyanese amongst us would deny that the Amerindian population of our country had been excluded from the mainstream of educational opportunities during a period when the government of the day presided over the rapid decline of education standards in Guyana in the 1970s and 1980s.
During that era, some of our Amerindian children of school age never went to school, or went irregularly because they were required to travel long distances to and from school. Concomitantly, many a mother and father could not find the wherewithal to provide that breakfast let alone that lunch for their children. Resultantly, non-attendance, irregular attendance, a high incidence of latecoming and high drop-out rates were the order of the day. Some of our Amerindian children were functionally illiterate and innumerate.
The PPP/C, even before October 1992, did commit itself to focusing, inter alia, on improved access to education for our people and on enhancing the quality of that education. Towards that end we did invest heavily in education and access to education for all Guyanese, addressing the challenges of remoteness of communities, difficulty of terrain, high cost to deliver education and the paucity of human resource skills in the mostly hinterland villages and communities where our Amerindians lived.
A check of our track record from October 1992 to May 2015 will evidence the tremendous strides we made, working in tandem with the people, in providing wider access to quality education for our people. We addressed not only formal education but technical and vocational education also, thereby empowering Guyanese, including Amerindians, to improve their standard of living. Indeed, our Education Strategic Plan 2008-2013 set out as priorities “the provision of quality education” including technical and vocational education and Information Communication Technology and a focus also on nutrition and uniforms for pupils /students, upgrading and training for teachers, etc.
Our annual national and regional budgets continuously provided for expansion of our government’s focus on the implementation of these programmes in schools, and these included several primary and secondary schools in the hinterland regions.
We built schools where there were none; repaired school buildings where they were run-down and extended schools where they were overcrowded. And nowhere was this tremendous investment and improvement more noticeable than in the hinterland Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9. In so doing we created an environment conducive to teaching and learning.
This tremendous improvement of physical infrastructure was facilitated in large measure by the favourable performance of our country’s economy as a result of prudent social and economic policies and programmes. The PPP/C government was able to annually increase resource allocation under its education programme. One has only to examine the capital and the current budgets of the Regional Democratic Councils of Regions 1, 7, 8, 9 under their education programme 1993 to May 2015.
Recognizing the genuine financial constraints which many of our hinterland parents faced and which undoubtedly affected their ability to send their children to school, the PPP/C government provided assistance by way of transportation, uniform, hot meals to students, and specifically national and hinterland scholarships to hinterland students who performed creditably at the SSEE and CSEC. These modes of assistance allowed them to access education at the secondary and tertiary levels, to benefit from technical/vocational training. It also empowered successful students to play a more meaningful role in the governance and delivery of other services in their communities. Many were able to access training at technical institutions, such as the Carnegie School of Home Economics, the Government Technical Institute, the Guyana Industrial Training Centre, and the University of Guyana, as well as in Cuba.
Under the PPP/C government, there were several initiatives to improve the quality of the teaching force in the hinterland schools; improve the conditions of service for those teachers; enhance the teaching/learning environment; and upgrade utilities.
These included the Hinterland Teachers Training Programme (HTTP) and the Guyana Basic Education Teacher Training Programmes (GBETT) designed to upgrade and to train teachers in Regions 1, 7, 8, 9. They provided a mix of distance and face-to-face training. These incentives together with the Remote Area Incentive, construction of teachers’ houses, etc, brought greater equity in education delivery and opportunities for hinterland students in that they impacted on the number of trained teachers and the retention of these teachers.
Better education and training meant for many Amerindians better jobs and concomitantly better earnings. That many became education officers, headteachers, doctors, health workers, medexes, dentexes, microscopists, nurses, agriculture officers, engineers, police and army officers and more recently, ministers of government, is due in no small measure to the dedicated commitment and investment of resources by the PPP/C to education delivery in our Amerindian villages and communities.
There is a correlation between education and national development. Indeed, the educated tend to enjoy a higher quality of life. The investment in education delivery under the PPP/C government was significant, and so also were the returns on the investment. The PPP/C government ought to be congratulated for working to bridge the gap between the pace and state of development of remote hinterland communities where most of our Amerindian population live and urban communities.
Norman Whittaker, MP