From Sunday Stabroek
October 26, 1997

Ian on Sunday

The 1997 CXC results

In the last 5 years increased budgetary allocations for education have been a priority. The Government has poured billions of dollars into education at all levels. Hundreds of thousands of text-books have been distributed. Scores of schools have been built, re-built, repaired and re-equipped. In headline inches media stories about steps taken to improve education have exceeded all other stories. There can be no doubt that the government's heart is in the right place when it comes to doing something about the state of education in Guyana.

Having one's heart in the right place is important, but sadly, not sufficient. It is important to measure the success of these efforts so that we can judge to what extent the efforts have been well directed and the considerable amount of money well spent. It is appreciated that investments in education take longer to produce a return than ordinary business investments.

All the same there has to be a return sometime and there must be some means of measuring that return. Surely the Ministry of Education has the expertise to assess and explain the impact which the resources being poured into education is having. A mere continuing catalogue of increased budgetary allocations and new school buildings is not good enough.

In the absence of some other form of measurement by the Ministry, the only index of progress we have would seem to be exam results. These may be considered unsatisfactory as an index of achievement because improvements in the educational infrastructure are said to be slow in showing up in exam results. But what else do we have? After all, in the end, sooner or later, increased spending on education is going to have to lead to improved exam results. Otherwise what is the point of all the increased expenditure?

The attached table gives Guyana's CXC results in a number of important subjects in 1997 compared with recent years. The results for 1997 are depressing. In those two all-important subjects, English Language and Mathematics, we have slipped backwards since 1996. Alarm bells should be ringing in the Ministry. In Principles of Business and Accounts there has been a noticeable decline. What explanation could there be for this?

Why are the passes in Agriculture Science in Grades 1 and 11 so much worse than last year? Why, indeed, in overall terms, do we seem to have gone backwards this year? I assume the Ministry must have had an internal debate on this. It would be good to know what explanations they have found. Celebrating the wonderful individual successes of Carmichael Thorne and Mohalani Chatterdeo needs to be accompanied by soberly analysing the dismal collective failure of the system.

Sadly, the situation is worse than even these results indicate. The fact is that a very few top schools account for a hugely disproportionate percentage of good passes which means that the vast majority of our schools countrywide are simply machines for turning out failure.

Just as depressing, consider the undoubtedly high percentage of the top passes which come from students who takes "extra lessons" and you will realise that our school system has become largely dependent on this pernicious form of extra-curricular forced labour for whatever success it is achieving. It is hard to conceive of a more deplorable state of affairs.

But the worst aspect of these results is not even the still horribly low percentage of top passes obtained in all the leading subjects. The truly appalling aspect is how very few young Guyanese in the eligible age group even get as far as taking the CXC exams, let alone passing. The census in 1991 revealed that there are 82,000 young Guyanese in the age group 15 to 19.

Let us say, therefore, that at least 30,000 of our youngsters annually should be getting the chance to prepare for CXC exams. Now look at the figures again, see how many are actually sitting the various subjects, and if you have tears to weep, weep them now.

If you can bear to do so, consider that out of the tens of thousands of young Guyanese of the appropriate age only 713 and 628 obtained Grades 1 and 11 passes in English Language and Mathematics respectively in 1997. This clearly indicates that we continue to be a nation of school drop-outs. This is a certain recipe for economic, social, and cultural decline in the future. If you are concerned about literacy and numeracy look upon the number of Grades 1 and 11 passes in English and Mathematics and tremble. The figures border on the unbelievable. They seem to indicate regression.

We really need answers to why this state of affairs continues. The Government is quite clearly trying its level best to improve matters. A much higher percentage of public revenue is now devoted to education than in the recent past. Aid funds are being poured into rehabilitating schools. Why is this effort not reflected in far higher numbers of young Guyanese receiving a better education and achieving much better results? Is 5 years really too short a period to expect to see significantly better results?

Might it be that in some fundamental way educational policy is flawed? One thing can be said for sure. Better education flows not from re-built schools but from better and more devoted teaching. What is the evidence that we are beginning to get this? Teachers remain grossly underpaid and therefore demotivated in a fundamental way.

Teaching is still not seen as a profession which holds out any prospect to the younger generation of a long-term half-way decent living. Just as many teachers as before, if not more, put going to University to study in school hours or finding ways to earn money in sidelines well before full-time attention to the education and welfare of students in their care.

Many teachers, short-changed themselves, in their turn are short-changing the children in the schools. Until this changes radically our educational system will continue to condemn most young Guyanese either to emigration or to a run-down, desperate, and often criminal future.