Education Minister urges return to basics
- third five-year education plan being developed

by Wendella Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
June 28, 2001

EDUCATION Minister, Dr. Henry Jeffrey has posited that the future of the country depends on the successes in education.

He is also of the view that significant progress can be made in the general delivery of education and in dealing with the problem of functional illiteracy in particular, if a proper operational vision can be established and all stakeholders, particularly managers of the education system, can be successfully encouraged to shoulder their established responsibilities.

"We must return to basics," Jeffrey remarked, while noting that the Government is aware of the multifarious educational theories, deficiencies and need for other inputs, such as managerial and professional training of teachers; the establishment of proper norms and better staffing at the managerial level.

The Education Ministry, he said, is open to suggestions, adding that the issue of education must be accorded national cooperation.

Jeffrey made the observations on day two of the ongoing debate on the 2001 Budget, and in rebuttal to an earlier presentation by Opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) front bencher, Mr. Deryck Bernard.

In his presentation, Bernard lamented the absence of an education strategy in which human resource development is an essential component of the country's growth strategy.

He also blamed the reduction on productivity for the unproductive performance in almost every sector in Guyana.

But Jeffrey referred to a report by consultants Macrae Mason which stated that "whereas the 1990 Education Development Plan (EDP) presented a clear policy framework for the years 1990 to 1995, the 1995 EDP went further by complementing the policy framework (for 1995 to 1999) with goals and strategy for achieving these goals."

The ministry, he added, is involved in a national consultation which will result in the development of a third five-year plan for the years 2002-2007.

Bernard contended too that increased spending in education, especially when it goes primarily to physical infrastructure is misguided, as education could take place under a tree and the school numbers are dwindling.

He argued too that repairs and the construction of new schools were somewhat misplaced, and the placing of a few computers in schools must not be interpreted as introducing Information Technology.

Bernard, also a lecturer at the University of Guyana, told the House that there is a paucity of computers to teach the teachers who in the final analysis are to impart such skills to the students.

But Jeffrey countered saying the Government has done a lot for education software, pointing out that new curriculum was developed and norms set for the nursery, primary, secondary along with the technical vocational levels.

In addition, new teacher training institutions have been established throughout the country, with a record 600 teachers graduating this year, he said.

About the Secondary Schools Reform Programme (SSRP), Bernard said it makes sense to no one other than the officials of the Ministry of Education, and that it has completely ignored what the Primary Education Improvement Project failed to achieve.

His contention is that about 30 per cent of the students who write the Secondary Schools Entrance Examination (SSEE) gain low scores, and that the SSRP will in no way help.

He added that converting Primary Tops and Community High Schools to secondary was just "window dressing."

Bernard argued that unless the available resources are used to undertake social reforms in primary education, all other exercises will be futile and the end result is that the professional will become frustrated.

He said investment was needed for the University of Guyana for it to be competitive and felt that the input of resources on the Berbice Campus was like scattering "bird seed".

He also questioned the wisdom of putting computers in schools and not the Faculty of Education, remarking that the transfer of technology is the way to go.

The PNC/R parliamentarian said too that if Guyana is serious about being competitive, it needs to strengthen institutions which invest in human and social capital.

No debt relief or poverty reduction will work unless the people are empowered with the necessary skills, he said.

Jeffrey on the other hand told the House that while it is not possible for Guyana to compete with some other countries, there are other things that can be done.

He said the Education Ministry is developing a strategic alliance with the union and that increases for hinterland allowances, pay for additional qualification and Whitley Council Leave, have been approved by Cabinet.

The Minister also argued that there are good schools throughout the country which are not treated in any privileged way, adding "we should find out why they are so good."

Jeffrey posited that two important elements that go to making a good school are stakeholder involvement and good school management.

The Education Minister did not take too kindly to Bernard's remarks about scattering of resources like `bird seed', and responded to the loud thumping of table tops by his Government colleagues that the "people in Berbice deserve a right to have a university education."

This continued when Jeffrey remarked that the Government has a proud record in education.

The five-year strategic plan addresses issues such as:

** Improvement of the managerial capabilities of the ministry.

** Decentralisation.

** Increasing the level of participation and commitment of stakeholders.

** Better standards for inputs, processes and outcomes.

** Improvement of infrastructure and equipment.

** Improvement in the quality of education in the hinterland.

** Acceleration of the inclusion of persons with special needs into the education system.

** Achievement of universal access to secondary education.

** Increasing the level of respect and tolerance for diversity.

** The production of competent teachers for the system and the provision of better support.

** The reduction of the loss of valuable human resources.

** Ensuring the relevance of the curriculum at all levels. The widespread introduction of information technology to make it possible for all Guyanese to be more productive and live fuller lives in this century.

** Improvement in Early Childhood Education.

** Ensuring that Tertiary Education is responsive to the needs of students and the society as a whole.

** Providing significantly better levels of literacy and numeracy among students and the general population.