March 3, 2000
Last Saturday Prince Charles commissioned a computer laboratory at the Corentyne High School which had been funded by the Guyana Education Access Project (GEAP). At the ceremony President Jagdeo was reported to have told the audience that education had always been and would always be a part of the PPP/Civic government's priority programme. Citing figures, the President stated that when the PPP/Civic first came to office in 1992, G$1 billion was being spent on education annually, and that now that figure had reached G$7 billion.
In 1992, he continued, 35 per cent of the student population had no access to secondary school education, but currently this had increased to 58 per cent. He was reported as conceding that building new schools was not the only thing which had to concern the administration since the delivery of education was a rather more complex matter. He referred to the curricula in the schools in 1992, which had not necessarily been relevant to the needs of children in the real world, but which now had been changed, and to his government's focus on teacher training in the regions, such as at New Amsterdam, Linden and Essequibo, among other places. He also said that the remuneration of teachers was being looked at.
There is no doubt that there has been a substantial increase in the budgetary allocation for education since the government first took office, and that there has been a marked improvement in the physical state of many school buildings. The figures on secondary education are impressive, and the emphasis on teacher training has much to recommend it. The problem is, despite this massive expenditure there has been very little corresponding improvement in examination results. While exams are fairly crude indicators of performance, nevertheless over time they do provide an acceptable basis for making comparisons. The CXC results in particular, are a useful indicator of the state of our education system, because they allow us to compare ourselves with our regional neighbours. And the unfortunate truth is that our position in the Caribbean league tables has not shown any dramatic upward movement over the past seven-and-a-half years; we still lag behind Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.
Paradoxically, individual students have produced some dramatic results at CXC, this year being a case in point. However, it is not the outstanding success of a handful of candidates which is the criterion by which the health of the education system as a whole should be judged; what will tell you that are the average scores, and those continue to be disappointing, especially in the core subjects. Whatever the quality of the teaching in the schools, children who come from homes where the parents are professionals, or who take an interest in their education and provide them with books, or who have enough money to give them quality private tuition will perform very much better than their peers. In other words, they would probably do well even if the government had not spent G$7 billion on education last year.
The real issue, of course, is the absence of qualified teachers. The problem with the present emphasis on teacher training is that many of those who are now being trained have had a deficient education at the lower levels in the system, and the older one gets, the harder it becomes to remedy those deficiencies. While it is important to learn the techniques of teaching children, far more important is having a sound education and, at the secondary level, of having a good grasp of one's subject area. In addition, as fast as the country trains teachers, they are being handed a passport to travel, if not to Botswana, then at least to the Caribbean. It is no secret that the school systems in several of the small islands are dependent on Guyanese teachers.
President Jagdeo did mention in his address the question of the remuneration of teachers. This is the crux of the problem. If the Government cannot find a means to pay the teachers enough to keep the few qualified ones who are still here anchored to their homeland, and cannot attract back those who have emigrated to the Caribbean, then all the new curricula, new school buildings and elaborate projects in the world are not going to drag us back to the top of the Caribbean league tables.