Some 30 new secondary schools needed to ease overcrowding
- Dr Hunte

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
April 1, 2000

The secondary education system needs some 30 new schools to ease the current overcrowding, Director of the Secondary Schools Reform Project (SSRP), Dr Kenneth Hunte says.

Hunte was speaking at the opening ceremony yesterday of the Ministry of Education-sponsored National Conference on Quality Secondary Education, in a presentation on the inputs for quality secondary education.

And Secretary-General of the Guyana UNESCO Office, Carmen Jarvis, observed that the teaching of modern languages was being marginalised and urged the Ministry of Education to ensure that secondary students master at least one foreign language.

Calling on the Finance Ministry to build another 30 secondary schools, including residential schools in the hinterland and riverain areas, to house those who are denied a secondary education because there are no facilities, Dr Hunte also urged the ministry to design and implement a planned rehabilitation programme for those existing secondary-age (secondary, community high and primary tops) schools in need of urgent repairs. The need for such a programme was revealed by a survey conducted by the SSRP over the past two years.

The conference at the Ocean View Hotel, which attracted senior education officials, educators and representatives of public and private secondary schools among others, also heard presentations from Director of the Private Sector Commission of Guyana, David Yankana and Chief Education Officer Ed Caesar.

Hunte urged that there be established criteria for the equitable allocation of financial resources to secondary schools. This must take into account the student population, students' age range, curriculum offered, location, the provision of residential facilities and provision for students with special educational needs. The Finance Ministry also needs to budget for planned maintenance of the secondary school environment and the replacement of outdated teaching and learning materials.

Hunte also advocated the instituting of an attractive remuneration package which would recruit and retain suitably qualified and competent persons as secondary teachers and educators in order to sustain the developments which are emerging from the SSRP now underway. He also called for vibrant support for the implementation of the Schools Improvement Plan (SIP) and recommended that the minimum average student attendance and punctuality should be at 90%.

Parents and the community, he said, should demand higher secondary educational standards and accountability for the quality of education provided by secondary schools. They should also collaborate with the Ministry of Education to establish a database of the future employment needs of the world of work.

Speaking about educational reforms, Jarvis said that many projects have foundered because of insufficient involvement of the "main parties" that should contribute to the success of educational reforms. The main parties are the local community which will include parents and business representatives; public authorities which will include ministry officials; and the international community. Calling on the wider community to get involved in the business of education, she said that the reform processes were more assured of success if there was determined commitment from local communities, parents and teachers backed by educational authorities with dialogue and various forms of outside financial, technical and professional assistance.

Noting that the role of the teacher was crucial at all levels of the education system, Jarvis, a former headmistress of the Bishops' High School said that the demands made on them were considerable, "especially at this time when the world is encroaching on the school through the new communication and information media." It is also a time when young people with whom teachers have to deal are receiving, in many instances, less parental and religious guidance but are exposed to many adverse influences through the media.

As a result, teachers now have to take these new situations into account if they are going to be effective in giving students a love for learning that will take them through life. Teachers, she said, need to show students that the acquisition of knowledge, as opposed to information required effort, concentration, discipline and determination.

Jarvis and Hunte emphasised teacher training, retraining and access to continuing education and the wherewithal for delivering education of the highest standard if excellence is to be achieved.

Charging that the teaching of modern languages is being marginalised, Jarvis said that it was an absolute necessity in this age of globalisation. While students need to be proficient in their own mother tongue, she said, provision must be made for the mastery of at least one other. This was crucial for foreign negotiations, participation in international conferences, trade and economic development and the whole business of living peacefully and successfully in the world.