President: joblessness, teen pregnancy, school dropouts are ‘big problems’

A section of the audience at the forum (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

Labelling unemployment, teenage pregnancy and dropping out from schools as “big problems”, President David Granger yesterday said that there must be no denial of this and that several steps are being taken to remedy the situation.

Addressing the Cuffy 250 State of the African-Guyanese Forum at the Critchlow Labour College, the President railed against “denialism”.

According to a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency, Granger said that “there are problems and we should not deny that there are problems because if we deny there are problems, we would never find correct solutions”. 

He cited the rate of school ‘dropouts’, which he said sees at least seven students leaving school per day, with the highest incidence being in public secondary schools where at least five students drop out every day. Unemployment, which is estimated at 12 per cent of the labour force or about 37,119 persons is another problem plaguing the Guyanese community, Granger declared. Thirdly, he pointed to the “alarming rate” of teenage pregnancy, which is the highest in the Caribbean Community; more than 3,000 Guyanese teenage girls become pregnant every year. 

He said that denying the pervasiveness of these problems will not solve them. He called for a concerted effort to successfully address them.  

“These are big problems and we cannot deny that they exist. We cannot take our hands away from working towards a solution. We are seeking solutions and we need organisations like yours, non-governmental organisations and civil society, churches, religious organisations, Mandirs and Mosques to work together to solve these problems for all Guyanese particularly young Guyanese,” he said.

The President, according to the statement, said that it is for this reason that emphasis is being intensified on Technical Vocational Education Training to build human capacity and expanding opportunities for young persons not in education, employment or training. Thus far, the Essequibo Technical Institute, Leonora Technical and Vocational Training Centre, Guyana Industrial Training Centre, Government Technical Institute, Carnegie School of Home Economics, Mahaicony Technical and Vocational Training Centre, New Amsterdam Technical Institute, Corentyne Indus-trial Training Centre and the Linden Technical Insti-tute have a combined enrolment of 3,776 students.

 He said that the work of these institutes and centres is being supplemented by training programmes organised by the Board of Industrial Training [BIT] and by Practical Instruction Centres and Practical Instruction Departments in secondary schools. 

“We are working to ensure that 42 schools will have practical instruction workshops by 2020.  Robust efforts have been made to reduce school absenteeism and improve attendance particularly at public schools. Quietly, the Public Education Transport Service [PETS] has responded to the reality that many parents could not afford the cost of transport to send their children to school. PETS has had an impact on school attendance and household savings. The Service has distributed 1,184 bicycles, 27 buses and 9 boats.  More children are going to school. PETS is saving parents money; in some cases the savings can be as high as $48,000 per month per student – money which can now be funnelled into improving households”,  Granger asserted.  

He stated that unemployment is being reduced through the promotion of self-employment. The President said that it is his belief that once young people are given the training and opportunity, they will want to work. 

“Almost 400 community projects – financed under the Sustainable Livelihoods and Entrepreneurial Development [SLED] project, the Community Organized for the Restoring the Environment [CORE] project, the Amerindian Development Find [ADF] and the Basic Needs Trust Fund [BNTF] – have been granted $3.7B.  These programmes are not to be laughed at,” the Head of State argued.

 He said that micro-financing interventions – the Linden Enterprise Network; the Micro- and Small-Enterprises Development project and the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service – have provided $1.2B in grants and loans to more than 3,000 young entrepreneurs, including first-time business start-ups.

 “We are also working at improving the quality of workers’ lives. Workers’ standards of living are being improved. Public servants’, including teachers have had their minimum wage raised by over 50 per cent since this administration took office. So there have been interventions not by denying the capabilities of Guyanese to respond, not by saying that they don’t have cultural roots but by giving them tools to become self-reliant and develop their self-esteem. There is no cultural blindness. Once they are given the assistance they can see their way forward,” the President declared.

His reference to teachers comes in the backdrop of a planned strike by them, beginning today, over wages.  

Earlier in his address, Granger referred to a local case of denialism.

He cited a  prominent Guyanese writer who he did not name and who “asserted that African-Guyanese practised ‘self- hatred’; accused African-Guyanese of `cultural blindness’; alleged that African-Guyanese were `surrendering their collective dignity to the dictates of party politics’; attacked African-Guyanese for `losing faith in the ability to overcome’ and of `dumping the emancipation spirit;’ and claimed that `There has been no bigger sinner against the blackman, since Emancipation, than the blackman himself.’”

These words were authored by Professor David Hinds in his Kaieteur News column of August 1st this year.     

Granger argued that this is a form of denial, which seeks to deny that this whole group has the capacity, the self-respect and self- esteem to transform their lives, to belong to political parties to improve their lives and to be culturally aware.

“There has been no credible research to explain these reckless pronouncements. I am convinced that national problems can be resolved but they cannot be resolved by inventing fake theories and notions, which refute reality and impede the process of solving the problems that confront society. We need to examine causation and causation of pervasive social problems needs to be determined before correct solutions can be sought and implemented”, Granger declared.

Granger added that “A prominent leader of one country, notoriously, denied the link between Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and because of that denial 330,000 people died because his Government refused to provide treatment to HIV-infected persons. Even today people deny the impacts of global warming.  Other prominent persons have described global warming as an ‘expensive hoax.’ Cigarette manufacturers have long denied the link between smoking and cancer.”

Though he did not name the country in relation to HIV denial, the circumstances match the period under former South African President Thabo  Mbeki.

 “We should not allow people to deny that there are problems because that would obstruct us from implementing solutions. I believe Cuffy 250 is one of the solutions. Where there are problems, we must be courageous enough to admit there are problems and look for solutions and sometimes it calls for research. We must all do much more to quicken the pace at which social problems are solved, local democracy firmly re-established, community development improved and the people could enjoy a good life,” he said.

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