Call for re-definition of education
as the 21st century nears

by Gwen Evelyn
Guyana Chronicle
July 15, 1998

EXECUTIVE of the `On the Wings of Words' Task Force, Dr. Brian O'Toole has advised that a re-definition of education be made as the world approaches the new millennium.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the `On The Wings Of Words' workshop for facilitators of the Baha'i organisation's literacy programme, Monday morning, Dr. O'Toole said that the foundation should be set for a new world order.

He noted that the next few months are important and the world will face challenges peculiar to the history of mankind.

Nothing but the creation of new beings will help, O'Toole declared. He added that every fifth person in the world cannot read. This condition is exacerbated by poverty, superstition and prejudice, he said, while pointing out that even as the world tries to respond, radical solutions are needed.

"We need to re-define what education is and to re-conceptualise what literacy programmes are doing," O'Toole said.

Arguing that the old model of teacher being narrator must be changed, Dr O'Toole, who is also Director of the School of Nations, said that the situation at schools is that teachers make deposits into empty vessels. If the child is docile, he is a desirable pupil.

Therefore, the child becomes a receptacle to be filled; he is passive and easy to mould; he receives, memorises, repeats and returns his information on demand when end-of- term examinations are due.

"That is a tragic process," O'Toole commented, stating that the old education system is for a culture of silence.

"Our job is to change this," he said.

At the workshop, participants will explore what literacy is; how the creative expression of the child can be released; and how young people can be helped to communicate, listen and consult.

Member of the "On The Wings of Words" Task Force, Ms. Shelley Harris said that the Baha'is started their programme with a pilot project in 1994 for Baha'is who were not literate.

Harris said that the Baha'is decided to expand their programme to include Guyana citizens after realising that the country has a literacy problem.

A survey done here showed that a high percentage of school-age youths are not literate.

Ms Harris explained that Baha'is have programmes in countries of Africa and Asia as well.

"The response has been overwhelming in Guyana," Harris noted.

And another member of the Task Force, Ms. Evelyn Hamilton observed that the project has developed because of inputs from facilitators.

Hamilton noted that as the programme moved through different stages, material was revised and strategies changed.

To date, the programme has trained about 1,000 facilitators. And Monday's batch comprised persons from all across Guyana, the Caribbean and the United States.

Director of the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE), Mr. Samuel Small congratulated the literacy programme's Task Force and facilitators for the work they have done.

"It is now more important than ever before for people in any country to be literate," Small emphasised.

He said that opportunities will pass by those who are illiterate.

Literacy also affects the way people feel about themselves, he said, pointing out that a sense of self-worth is important.

Noting that more males than females are illiterate, Small checked Monday's gathering to see how many men were present. Of a packed audience, there were less than a dozen males.

Mr Small also urged participants to be conscious of such statistics as they work. He explained that training programmes for facilitators of the literacy programme and their students will receive certificates from the IDCE.