We are still to receive official confirmation that the customary programme of activities usually planned and executed by the Ministry of Education to mark Education Month which is usually rolled out in September will not be staged this year. Up until yesterday – at least as far as we are aware – that information had not been placed in the public domain and even some Ministry officials with whom we sought confirmation were saying to us that they were unaware that this was the case.
The first thing that may come to mind about the decision to set aside the Education Month programme this year is that thedistractions/exertions associated with the just concluded industrial action by teachers might have shifted attention from the Education Month programme, bearing in mind that effective execution depends heavily on teacher and student participation. Mind you, we have seen reports that the programme of activities for Region Three had actually ‘kicked off’ even as the teachers’ strike was beginning to build a ‘head of steam.’ The rest of the programme for that Region will now presumably come to a shuddering halt.
Planning for Education Month is usually done on a regional basis and starts prior to the beginning of the school year so that, arguably, with the industrial action now at an end, it ought to have been possible to execute an Education Month programme anyway even if it meant extending the activities planned for the period into October. All of this assumes, of course, that it was the distractions of the teachers’ industrial action and not some other internal ‘short circuit’ within the Ministry of Education (perhaps some issue pertaining to finances or some administrative or logistical limitation) that resulted in the decision to set aside the Education Month 2018 programme. Whatever the reason, a proper explanation is owed to the people who did the planning and certainly to the children and parents who customarily participate in the programme in one way or another.
Part of the focus of Education Month, over the years, has been to use the period to draw attention to particular issues/developments in the education system and this year, according to the Ministry of Education, was no exception. Back in July the Ministry of Education had made quite a public fuss about what it said was going to be its Education Month Blue Riband event, a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Spirituality (STEAMS) exposition (a variation on the better-known STEM initiative already underway in Guyana) which it had said would involve the participation of private sector firms and which had been billed to run from September 13th – 16th at D’Urban Park, Homestretch Avenue and for which – if it were intended to be an impactful event – planning would have been underway weeks if not months ago. Yesterday, we learnt from someone involved in the preparation of some of the booths for the event that that too had been shelved…until next year, we are told.
Education Month also customarily features rallies, debating and essay competitions, newspaper supplements and celebratory events to honour teachers and to mark the examination-related achievements of our children. All of these help to build the self-esteem of the teachers and children alike and raise the profile of the education sector which, truth be told, has experienced its own fair share of woes for several years. In that context it would have been good to have an Education Month programme that could at least serve as a kind of barometer with which to measure whatever forward movement the Ministry and more particularly the education system is making. Here again, whatever challenges the Ministry may have had to contend with insofar as the rolling out of this year’s Education Month programme is concerned it would have done its image a power of good if it had delivered a programme which might have had its limitations but could have, nonetheless, made a meaningful statement about the work that it is doing to turn things around. After all, Education Month represents the one extended opportunity afforded the Ministry of Education during the year to shine a positive light on the education system, to track its forward movement and to celebrate the achievements of our students, teachers, parents, administrators and all those others who, collectively, keep the system ticking over and perhaps above everything else to make a pleasing statement to the nation as a whole.
It would also have been particularly good for the occasion that Education Month usually provides for us – particularly at this time – to restate our gratitude to the teaching profession as a whole for the outcomes insofar as our children’s accomplishments are concerned. Those plaudits, apart from being altogether deserving, might, as well, have helped to remove whatever ‘edge’ might still linger, arising out of the recent strike action, the reality of the situation being that if our education system is to accomplish those goals upon which the country depends, particularly in terms of developing the skills required to take Guyana forward, then a convivial relationship between those who administer our education system and those who are in fact its engine room is absolutely necessary.
Somehow, given all of the challenges and limitations confronting our education system, not least those that have to do with the limits to our teaching and administrative resources, the alarmingly high rate of school dropouts, the state of many of our schoolhouses, the poor remuneration afforded our professionals, the lack of in -school teaching resources and the difficulties associated with managing children who are, themselves, challenged in many instances, by difficult circumstances in their homes and their communities, one might have felt that Education Month could have been used as a sort of confidence -building tool, not only to make the point about the manner in which we are responding to those challenges but also to convey a disposition of resilience without which our education system will simply be unable to accomplish its goals.