The wealth of a nation lies in its people

by Hydar Ally
Guyana Chronicle
February 9, 2001

THE wealth of any nation lies in its people. This is why investing in people is the best form of investment one could possible think of.

The formation and development of what is described in development literature as human capital is now seen as the single most important ingredient for national development and economic and social progress.

Experience in other countries has demonstrated that countries that invest heavily in education and human resource development are countries that have higher levels of economic growth and prosperity. Take Singapore which today is regarded as one of the Asian Tigers. In the early 1960s, Singapore had a level of development and a per capita income which was comparable to that of Guyana. Today Singapore enjoys a per capita income, which is 25 times higher than Guyana. Guyana, in contrast, retrogressed from one of the most prosperous countries in the Anglo-phone Caribbean in the early 1960s to the poorest in the entire Western Hemisphere, by the end of the 1980s, almost on par with Haiti which is noted for high levels of poverty.

The economic and social crisis, which the country found itself in over the past few decades was due to a combination of factors which time would not permit me to go into any detail. Suffice it to say that the crisis resulted mainly from a political crisis which became manifest in a severe contraction of the economy and a consequential decline in economic and social life. The education sector was among the hardest hit with education allocation shrinking to almost negligible proportions. The biggest withdrawal of resources to the education sector took place during the 1988-1992 period under the then Structural Adjustment Programme which saw education spending failing to an all-time low in 1991 to under three per cent of the budgetary allocation.

But perhaps the greatest and most tragic loss to the country was the brain drain - the depletion of the most precious asset of the nation - its brainpower. Our best teachers and other professionals departed the shores of Guyana for greener pastures, the majority of whom have settled down permanently in their adopted homeland. The effects of this depletion of skills are still felt today resulting in high levels of institutional incapacity and skills shortage in a number of key and critical areas.

The biggest tragedy for me is the relatively high proportion of students who were condemned to a quality of education that was at best substandard especially those who were shunted to primary tops and Community High schools. Little wonder the dropout rates from these schools were by far higher than those of general secondary schools. A survey done in 1993 found that roughly nine out of every 10 school youths were found to be functionally illiterate.

The current administration has to its credit recognised education as the vehicle for human development and social change. It has in a conscious and deliberate way, reallocated resources to the education sector, which moved from under three per cent of the budgetary allocation in 1991 to over 14 per cent in 2000. This increase in financial resources, coupled with a number of policy interventions, has seen significant improvements in quite a number of critical areas, the most significant of which is greater access to education opportunities and a qualitative improvement in education delivery. The Ministry of Education is now in the process of phasing out primary tops and Community High Schools to ensure that every child is provided with an opportunity to benefit from a common secondary school curriculum. The aim is to provide every child at the secondary level with an opportunity to write the CXC/GCE examinations and to move on in life as far as their ability would allow.

This essentially is what development is all about. It is about creating opportunities for people, especially our young people. It is about empowering them and providing them with choices in life. The future of Guyana lies in the hand of our young people, as President Jagdeo reminded us from time to time.

Education is a critical factor in our quest for a peaceful and cohesive society. It allows us to make better and informed choices and to respond positively and intelligently to the issues and challenges of our society. This is especially relevant in periods such as these when the electorate is about to cast their ballots to elect a government of their choice for the next five years. It is important that as responsible and concerned citizens we exercise our right to choose our government with the knowledge and conviction that whatever choice we make will be in our best interest and that of our children.

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