Guyana has to `leap-frog' in education
by Shirley Thomas
January 23, 2001
PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo has said that the education thrust in Guyana has to be 'top priority'.
And while appreciating that the education system has done a lot along an evolutionary path, he feels "Guyana needs to leap-frog -- have a revolutionary approach towards education."
He was speaking Friday afternoon at the opening of the $60M extension to the National Library in Georgetown.
Noting that his government has always been working at promoting and implementing this policy of education for the nation, he recalled discussing with businessmen and other groups in civil society, his vision for establishing libraries in every village in the country, and every ward in the city.
In a resolute bid to promote this campaign, and ensure that it catches, the President stated: "We can use bottom houses, we can use the churches, the NDC (Neighbourhood Democratic Council) buildings -- any building that can accommodate books, and promote people reading."
"We feel that with education/knowledge comes empowerment, but you have to provide resources. And that is why today we are spending on the education sector G$9.3 Billion," he said.
Noting that this amount is still not enough, he affirmed: "We still have to spend more on education."
The opening of the extension to the library was greeted with enthusiasm and appreciation as evidenced by the attendance and outpourings by the large gathering which included Prime Minister Sam Hinds, former President Janet Jagan, Minister of Education, Dr Dale Bisnauth - one of the key figures working alongside the President to make this dream a reality, other government ministers, members of the diplomatic corps and educationists.
Ms Carmen Jarvis, Deputy Chairman of the Committee of the National Library, in giving a history of the National Library, related a very moving episode of the fortunes and misfortunes in the committee's pursuits towards acquiring the long awaited and badly needed extension.
From 1984 to 1997, the Library Committee tried with little success to make any progress with its plan for extending the library building in Church Street, she recalled.
Ms Jarvis recalled that as early as 1984, while celebrating the 75th anniversary of the National Library, she had lobbied for an extension to the building.
The library was erected in 1909 with a donation of $33,600 made by Andrew Carnegie. It was constructed to service the needs of the approximate 57,000 inhabitants of Georgetown.
There were about 7,700 books available for circulation among its 1,500 members.
With the increase of population and greater numbers of children and young people having access to secondary and tertiary education, it became more evident that the services had to be increased, and the building had become more inadequate.
Today the library has more than 50,165 members and the volumes in the system number 800,000. Hence, there was need to create with urgency, better working conditions for the staff. They were virtually cramped.
According to Jarvis: "A project to extend the building was launched with urgency, to create better working conditions for the staff, to provide for the additional functions undertaken, and to meet the need for upgrading research facilities."
She recalled that where the library sponsored and provided accommodation for public lectures, these had to be suspended because of lack of accommodation.
She said that a decision had to be taken that if the National Library were to play a pivotal role in any national information system, the expansion of the structure could be delayed no longer.
The proposal was drawn up and for a period of 16 years the Library Committee tried locally and internationally to secure funding for the extension project.
The size was to be 80' x 40', at an estimated cost of $88M.
Except for the Social Impact Amelioration Agency (SIMAP) which offered to cover merely the cost of repairs to the existing roof, and the German Embassy which assisted with a mini fund-raising project, the only positive response received was from the British High Commission which provided the steel frames for the structure in 1973.
But the committee never gave up hope, and continued to lobby for assistance.
In 1992, the new Minister of Education, Dr Bisnauth was approached and he forwarded the request to the Inter-American Development Bank. In 1993 the Committee heard that it was receiving the attention of the IDB.
Another three years passed, and in 1997, the Central Government gave approval for the construction of the new wing and provided the necessary finances, she recounted.
The government grant of $60M, along with the British grant of steel frames for the structure, was used to furnish the building boasting a state-of-the-art conference room and computerise the system, among other things.
At the opening of the new wing, the National Library also formally launched its website.
The Library Committee and staff of the National Library expressed gratitude to President Jagdeo and the Minister of Education, among others, for funding the project.
Mr Jagdeo was commended for the personal interest he continues to take in the library.
He was one of four persons to receive awards at the ceremony for his outstanding contribution to making the National Library what it is today.
Others receiving awards were: Mrs Jagan; Ms Anna Benjamin and a posthumous award to the late A.J. Seymour.
Seymour's award was received by a relative, Mr Andrew King.
Mrs Audrey Glover, wife of the British High Commissioner, Mr Edward Glover presented the awards.
With education as one of the key considerations of his government, President Jagdeo said the administration has tried to reform the education system in various ways to make it more relevant to today's world.
Areas of focus he cited:
** Improving accommodation
** Extending teacher training at the centre and regionally as well
** Increased remuneration for teachers, even though not comparative with many countries
** The construction of a lab to promote and give impetus to Distance Education in Guyana
** Projects for the reforming of the curriculum
** The extension of tertiary education to Berbice with plans for Linden and the Essequibo coast as well.
The Head of State said that even though the country has done good at the formal education, in the field of ethics and introduction of a "feeling of national pride", it has failed to some extent.
"Today, many of our most educated people put their skills in the perpetuation of stereo-types, much to the division of our people", he lamented.
What is needed, he said, is for all to focus on an ethical approach to education, and on building a strong sense of pride, of being Guyanese, working together at building this country and realising its wonderful potential.
He also advocated the unity of religions and the introduction in schools of a programme that focuses on a moral approach to living and building of the character.
This, he said, should complement the formal education in schools.
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