If programmes to teach professional, craft and business skills are made widespread, we can in one or two generations eradicate poverty

Letters to the Editor
Stabroek News
October 1, 1999

Dear Sir,

What Stabroek News noted in its editorial [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] of September 24, 1999 of The Guardian's report in England on "Poverty and Educational Achievement" is not very different from points I made in my Adlith Brown lecture in Barbados in October 1997.

In my lecture, a copy of which was made available to Stabroek News, I said the following:

"If programmes to teach professional, craft and business skills are made widespread, we can in one or two generations, eradicate poverty. What we need to bear in mind is that poverty is perpetuated inter-generationally. Poor mothers and poor fathers parent poor youth. Programmes directed at educating poor youth are often ineffectual because the social conditions in the homes of those young people tend to nullify the tuition and training of the youth programmes. To eradicate poverty, programmes have to be directed at poor parents at the same time as efforts are made to educate poor youth".

This is plain, simple commonsense. It does not require The Guardian to bring it to our attention. We don't think in these terms because our minds recoil from the class implications of upgrading the poor, including the dysfunctional poor.

So what lessons does the research in England hold for us? The answers, oddly enough, are in the very Stabroek News.

A first answer is in the Stabroek News report on September 26, 1999 on "Bottom house school scouts students from street". In that excellent report, it is mentioned that Mr Abu Huriarah and the Institute of Reform had pioneered education programmes for prison inmates back in 1994 which saw many prisoners pass CXC subjects with distinctions.

Has there been any follow up to those pioneering efforts? The answer is most certainly no. If Mr Huriarah and the Institute of Reform can be assisted to teach prisoners skills in agriculture, carpentry, masonry, tiling, plumbing, electrical wiring, motor mechanics, other engine and equipment repair, small business management and a variety of approaches to meditation to reduce the emphasis on violence for conflict resolution, a start would be made to reduce recidivism and to improve the home conditions of poor and dysfunctional people.

A second answer, in fact an extension of the first answer, is in the debate now surfacing in Stabroek News on the proposed University of Berbice. (See Mr Fazal Ali's letter and the article by Cassandra in Stabroek News of September 26, 1999). If distance teaching of courses such as those mentioned above can reach into the homes of poor people, poor parents and poor children can achieve those standards of excellence that the prisoners reached.

Our university should be conceived as an institution first for developing internationally competitive teaching and research standards in the production activities in which we are engaged (mining, forestry, wood technology, agriculture, food technology, construction, fishing, aqua culture) and second for designing courses for tertiary education in the agriculture and craft and related skills mentioned above.

It should be possible to develop distance teaching undergraduate programmes for teaching centres around the country and, at the same time, reach the homes of poor people with programmes in remedial english and mathematics and in the first principles of craft skills. Poor people can continue with equipment training via distance teaching at nearby high schools and at community centres supervised by retired teachers and teachers trained to teach agricultural and craft skills.

The potential for and benefits from improving the education of poor parents are enormous. The returns from a university focus on production activities and from the use of distance teaching are equally high. Tertiary education can be financed in some part by the enrolment and the certification process but it will not be denied anyone even those who choose not to seek certification. The expenditure will be worth every cent spent when compared with the loss of life and property and the cost of policing that results from banditry.

These developments require resources and planning, not knee-jerk decision making. They can transform the society with enlightenment instead of being buried under the stultifying decadence that emanates from many of our television programmes.

Cane cutters, rice farmers, mechanics, minibus drivers, domestics, and crafts people who take these courses will compete in the skilled areas, lower production costs and attract investments. They will rise in income and social status and make it difficult for elites in ivory towers to determine the structure of our future society.

Elitism makes us see the work of Mr Huriarah and his institute as an isolated activity instead of making the connection with distance teaching as outlined above to eradicate poverty.

Yours faithfully,
Clarence F. Ellis

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