Time to review investment In education

by Joyce Jonas
Guyana Chronicle
June 30, 2001

LOOKING back on my life I find I have many things to be grateful for, but one thing stand out - and that's the education I've been fortunate to have had.

My parents were far from well off, my father just a semi-skilled worker, but society made sure that kids like myself got a solid primary and secondary education and just in case we'd left home without breakfast, they gave us a small bottle of milk each morning at break so that we would be able to take advantage of the tuition we were getting.

A scholarship system was in place so that kids like myself could go on to university and eventually give something back to the society that had invested so much in us.

I've now been working in education here in Guyana for 30 years, and the decline I've witnessed is enough to make you cry. For all our high-sounding schemes and recovery plans and programmes and seminars, we seem merely to get more firmly stuck in the quagmire.

Imagine this. You employ a building contractor to build you a house. You pay him week by week. You supply the plans. The weeks stretch into months, the months into years. At the end of, let's say, 15 years, all he can show you is a few wobbly posts and a sagging wall. You'd demand to know where your money had gone - and you'd be in order. But you know, we are indeed throwing money away just as I've described.

Listen: Our children enter school at about three years old and stay there until they are maybe 17 or 18. That makes 12 to 15 years that we have invested in their education. Yet at the end of those 12-15 years, an uncomfortably large percentage are unable to read with understanding, unable to express themselves clearly and logically, unable to tackle even the simplest of problems or to demonstrate in any way at all that society's investment in them has paid off.

Isn't it time for some assessment? Isn't it time for some honesty? I certainly don't envy the Minister of Education one bit. He has a job that guarantees chronic migraine headaches. But all of us are free to dream, and I sometimes dream about what I'd do if I were the Minister of Education.

First I'd flood our schools with VSO's and other volunteers. Next I'd raise the age of entering school to six - possibly even seven. Let parents take responsibility for the early education of their own children. The school leaving age would be 16 - no exceptions. Any education beyond then would be by scholarship or at the parents' expense. By removing the toddlers and the teenaged idlers, I'd have more teachers and fewer students, so the size of classes could be more manageable and schools would be able to afford textbooks to loan to students.

The whole phenomenon of lessons would be outlawed. Children would remain in school for rigorous tuition in the morning session, supervised well-regulated homework in the afternoon and supervised extra-curricular activities until, say, 5:30. A balanced meal would be provided on request at midday. The long summer vacation would be reduced to three weeks only. Teachers would be given substantial incentives - better salaries, ongoing training opportunities for promotion, a system of sabbaticals and so on. To help parents work with the teachers, radio and television would be used extensively, and training sessions for parents would be held countrywide.

If you're still listening, maybe you're agreeing vigorously, or maybe you are getting ready to write a letter of protest. In a way it doesn't matter what you think about my dreams. What does matter is that year by year our schools and our university are turning out for the most part a product that is sadly ill equipped to solve any of our country's problems - and, let's face it, no one else is going to solve them for us.