Re-entry of Catholics into local education is sign of hope
-David de Caires

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
May 29, 2001

With the re-entry of the Roman Catholic body into the country's education system and the operation of a few good private schools which have begun to show positive results, the challenge to the government is to strengthen the dominant state system, Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief David de Caires has said.

de Caires, the guest speaker on Sunday at the dedication ceremony of the new buildings which house Marian Academy on Carifesta Avenue, said that the re-entry of the Ursuline Nuns in the education system signified that the Roman Catholic Church had accepted the responsibility, despite the government take over of all denominational schools in 1976, to commit time, funds, energy and skills to this vital area.

This, he said, was a sign of hope for the future "in these harsh if not desperate times."

Marian Academy, which is run by the Ursuline Nuns, took in the first batch of children on September 14, 1998, and was formally declared opened at a `Dedication Ceremony' held in the forecourt of the school in brilliant sunshine on Sunday afternoon.

In attendance were children and staff, parents and a number of invitees, including Ministry of Education officials and members of the diplomatic community.

Fr Malcolm Rodrigues, Jesuit priest and member of the Association for Catholic Education (ACE), which pioneered the establishment of the school, had the honour of dedicating the new building for the purposes of education. Opening prayers were said by Monsignor Terrence Montrose on behalf of Roman Catholic Bishop, Benedict Singh.

The school's first principal, Jamaican-born Sister Marie Harper, OSU, unveiled the plaque to mark the official opening. The school's youngest pupil Suriah Khan of its nursery section with the help of the chairman of the school's Parent Teacher Association, Peter Harrison, had the privilege of cutting the ribbon before invitees and students entered the school's spanking new auditorium for a history of the school, the address by de Caires and a cultural presentation by the students.

de Caires noted that Marian Academy, which provides education at the nursery, primary and secondary levels, stands to benefit from a teaching staff that includes two Jesuit priests and a Mercy sister, apart from the Ursuline nuns and other teachers.

In the past, he observed, many people benefited from the ministrations of religious leaders. The Ursuline nuns, he said, had undertaken a magnificent enterprise at this time and "we must all be grateful that they have seen it fit to do so."

He said he had no doubt that "they are capable of staying with the project and seeing it through to a success we can only now dream of and wish for." He noted that he had the pleasure of visiting the school and was impressed by its achievements over the short period it has been in existence as well as its programmes for a rounded education.

Apart from the academics, he said, an exposure to athletics, cricket, football and tennis was not only good for health and the physique but taught important lessons of how to win and how to lose.

Emphasising that the nation was desperately in need of scientists of all kinds, he contended that with career guidance, which is part of the curriculum, the school can in due course make a substantial contribution to producing the physicists, chemists, biologists and technologists that are badly needed.

Noting that the idea of a good education surely is "to open the minds, not steer it in a particular direction", de Caires observed that "indeed both James Joyce (writer) and Fidel Castro (Communist leader and President of Cuba) were products of a Jesuit education, though not noted in later life for their devotion to the church." In a historical overview, chairman of the Board of Governors of the school Sister Jacqueline Da Silva said that the re-establishment of the school was a dream of several persons in 1994 when private schools were once again accepted by the government. However, it was in February 1998 when the Ursuline nuns were evaluating the effectiveness of their ministries that the discussion to establish a school moved forward. And six months later the school opened on the opposite side of the road in the Guyana Legion Building and the Guyana Softball Association headquarters with 227 children from nursery age to Form Two at the secondary level.

Since its establishment three years ago, the school now has its own buildings, the student enrolment has doubled. According to Sister Jacqueline, "the reality" is that "the school is unable to meet the demand for places."

At present, besides Form One where the intake would come from students of the Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations, all places have been filled for the other levels.

She thanked those who made the establishment of the school possible - the parents who put their trust in the new project and registered their children, closing the intake for many of the levels within two weeks; Sr Marie who willingly came to head the school and the teachers, not knowing if the project would be a success; benefactors locally and abroad who provided funds for books and facilities; the Guyana National Bank of Industry and Commerce for providing a 15-year loan; and the support of Bishop Singh and others in the local and overseas religious community.

Thanking those who built the school, Sr Jacqueline acknowledged the work of Ray McDavid, the designer; consultant Ian McDavid and staff; contractor Michael Gayadin and staff; quantity surveyor Edmund Browne; structural engineer Marcel Gaskin and electrical consultant Burchill Forde.