Private sector needs coordinated role in education
- Yankana

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
April 3, 2000

The private sector is looking for a better managed and coordinated relationship with the Ministry of Education by which it could make contributions to the education system, business executive David Yankana says.

Yankana is a director of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and Executive Director of the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry (CAGI). In a presentation during the opening ceremony of the Ministry of Education-sponsored National Conference on Quality Secondary Education at the Ocean View Hotel and Convention Centre, at Liliendaal on Friday, he said that private business has been making ad hoc contributions to the education system mainly in cash grants, pieces of equipment, computers and vehicles in some remote areas of the country.

Expressing a private sector evaluation of quality education as it affects businesses, Yankana quoted from a situation analysis of Adult Education in Guyana which states that industry representatives are prepared to train people but many are too illiterate to be trained for new jobs and the PSC is concerned at the unavailability of skilled employees based on empirical baseline data. In addition, employers have expressed dismay at the standard of applicants, including graduates of the formal school system. The employers may also want upgrading even for CXC graduates.

Pointing out that the private sector has always absorbed graduates fresh from the secondary schools and more seasoned entrants from tertiary educational institutions such as the technical and vocational institutions and the University of Guyana, Yankana said that it also absorbs persons straight from the primary system.

He noted that in a recent survey carried out to determine needs for training programmes to be offered by CAGI, the education spectrum revealed only primary education achievers, many of whom had graduated by experience into junior supervisory positions.

Given the fact that the Caribbean has a system of delivery in place compared to strife-torn Africa, parts of Latin America and the Far East, he said, it is necessary to get right the policy determination of education delivery programmes, curriculum content and relevance. Not only educational policies must be right, he said, but also economic policies, both fiscal and monetary, "because a country engulfed with low development indices faces an uphill task to raise the quality of education and achievement."

While the private sector expresses its need for high quality graduates to enter the labour force, he said it is common knowledge that "higher productivity and economic growth are increasingly dependent on the application of knowledge and information to the production of goods and services."

Private businesses, he said, continually look for higher quality performers but do not bury their heads in the sand or fail to recognise what ails the system.

Reflecting on production and economic consequences in Guyana "we come up against the introduction of SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) in Guyana in the late '80s and its consequences on education". Education from 1976 until the introduction of SAP was free from nursery to university "at a time when it would have been more prudent to adhere to fiscal prudence," Yankana said.

As a result of SAP, he said, policies were subject to the suggestions by some donors to adopt finance driven reforms such as shifting public funding for education from higher to lower levels of education to be followed by the privatisation of tertiary and secondary levels of education; control of costs by lowering qualification requirements; and increasing the ratios of students to teachers.

The alternative policy advocated was equity driven but it was argued that free public university education was a subsidy to higher income groups at the expense of the poor.

More recently, however, Guyana has had part equity/part finance driven reforms such as fee paying at the University of Guyana and the introduction of private schools at the secondary and primary levels.

Contending that there are obvious conflicts between the two types of reforms, the case for finance-based reforms are persuasive as many observers consider that educational quality declines when expenditure per pupil is cut.

Noting that he took part in a recent conference in Jamaica which focused on private and public sector involvement in education, Yankana said that for the Guyana delegation it was the first time that the "private business group interacted so closely with educators and officials of the Ministry (of Education)."

More significantly, he said that case studies at the conference show that when there is active involvement of private business in confidence building and moral self-upliftment of students, as well as monitoring programmes conducted with headteachers, a new dimension is opened for corporate involvement in education. Such a partnership is now a challenge for the Ministry of Education and the private sector in Guyana, he added.