Invest in human resources
-Bernard implores govt in budget debate

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
June 27, 2001

Former Minister of Education, Deryck Bernard yesterday renewed his criticism of the government's policy of placing heavy emphasis on education infrastructure and neglecting the "software" such as teaching aids, emoluments and management.

Bernard on day two of the 2001 budget debate in Parliament argued for an education strategy in which human resource development is an essential component of a country's growth strategy and not a separate thrust. He pointed out that almost every sector in Guyana is uncompetitive based on world standards and this is because of reduced productivity.

Investing in human resources, he underscored, is what increases productivity as education is not just a welfare issue or a moral good, but allows society to become a pool of resources, which can transform the economy.

He feels that the government's emphasis on education infrastructure such as repairs and new schools is somewhat misplaced and that the increased spending comes at a time when the number of students passing through the system is declining.

"If you have to teach under a tree but the teacher is motivated and qualified, you would be better off," Bernard asserted.

He also expressed the view that dumping a few computers into schools is not introducing information technology to the system, pointing out that in some cases there is no electricity to use the computers.

A PNC REFORM front-bencher, Bernard pointed out that the Faculty of Education at the University of Guyana, which produces teachers for the system, is not provided with computers to equip its trainees with the skills required of them.

He also finds it weird that enough emphasis was not being placed on technical and vocational training when this is the area of skills to which investors are more likely to be attracted.

He noted the inefficiency of the education inspectorate established and curricula reform which is eight years in the waiting.

Bernard also expressed reservations over the Secondary Schools Reform Programme (SSRP) which he says makes sense to no one else but the Ministry of Education. He said this reform effort has completely ignored what the Primary Education Improvement Project (PEIP) failed to achieve. He said that 30% of the students taking common entrance come out with low scores which show them to be functionally illiterate. He argued that the SSRP will not help these children by converting top primary schools and community high schools to secondary schools as this will just be window dressing.

"Until we use the resources to carry out social reform in primary education we are wasting our time and only frustrating the professionals," Bernard opined.

He further underscored the need for investment in the University of Guyana (UG) to produce the skills to allow Guyana to become competitive. He questioned the sense in scattering resources like "birdseed" on a Berbice campus of UG when it could have been better spent at the Turkeyen campus where no one was denied access.

Bernard also noted the need for administrative reform in the ministry system so that professionals are not frustrated in executing their duties. He argued that if there was a coherent policy, these issues would not arise.

If Guyana is serious about being competitive, he said, the only way forward is strengthening the institutions, which invest in human and social capital. He said no model could work unless there is a coordinated effort to invest in people. No debt relief or poverty reduction strategy is going to solve the problem if people are not empowered with the skills to be more productive and progressive, he asserted.