The right to free education not likely to be included in new constitution

Stabroek News
June 29, 1999

The right to free education from nursery to university is unlikely to find a place in a new constitution and the right of bodies other than the state to set up educational establishments is likely to be included.

This was the trend of the discussion when the commission discussed the issue last week against the background of a paper on the subject prepared by a sub-committee of the commission.

That paper directed the attention of the commission to the submissions it had received on educational opportunities from disadvantaged groups, including teenage mothers, indigenous children and persons with learning and other disabilities.

Other issues which the submissions on education covered were the need for constitutional recognition of the importance of religion in education, mandatory religious education, a national prayer and protection for the freedom of religious instruction in schools.

Some other submissions referred to the issue of free education from nursery to university as provided for in Article 27 of the constitution, and sought to have it preserved or altered so as to retain protection of the right to free education at the primary and secondary levels.

Dr Rupert Roopnaraine who represents the Alliance for Guyana on the commission made an impassioned plea for the retention of the provision of free education, describing it as an investment in the future. He cited Barbados, which according to him had not been infected by the ideology to which Guyana had been exposed, providing free education at all levels of the system.

He said that one consequence of this move was that Barbados now boasted the best and most modern education system in the region and that her nationals who had migrated to North America and Europe were now sending their children back to Barbados to be educated.

Roopnaraine conceded that the country's education system had been disastrously degraded but still felt that the investment in education was one that the country could not afford not to make.

"We are in the worst kind of bankruptcy without," he observed in answer to arguments that the concept was out of date and could not be afforded.

His views on a right to free education being included in the constitution were not shared by most of the other members of the commission.

Commission secretary, Haslyn Parris, one of three representatives of the People's National Congress, in his contribution to the discussion felt that the state's obligation to ensure that education was treated as a necessity should be enshrined in the constitution. Also he said that the state's obligation should include ensuring that the education provided was relevant to the increasingly competitive milieu in which Guyana found itself.

He said that the education system should have as its objectives producing persons well integrated into the society and seized of the importance of working together with their fellow-Guyanese to develop the country.

Such a system, he said, would make compulsory instruction in comparative religion, entrepreneurial skills and cooperation in all schools, public and private.

Jean La Rose, the representative of the Amerindian community, highlighted the plight of Amerindian children whose introduction to the formal education system was conducted in a language which was not their first language. She asked for consideration to be given to bi-lingual instruction to smooth the transition and urged consideration for her proposal to be inserted at the appropriate place in the constitution.

Ramdial Bhookmohan, who represents the Private Sector, urged an abandonment of free education harking back to the days when people valued the education they received because it was paid for. He also observed that there was no proper survey as to the needs of industry with a result that the technical institutes churned out people with skills which were not needed, and so were unemployable.

Deryck Bernard, another of the PNC representatives, warned his colleagues not to believe that private education was the best because it was being paid for. The reality, he said, was the uniforms were better but that the best education was still available at the public schools.

Miles Fitzpatrick SC, who is the Bar Association representative, highlighted the fact that private education was a reality but stressed that there was some need for monitoring that the product produced met some minimum standard. He also observed that in the past there was not a proliferation of private schools because they could not match the standards set by the public schools.

The commission will now ask their legal experts whom they have asked to reformulate Chapter II of the Constitution - Principles and Bases of the Political, Economic and Social System - to recast it in the light of their discussion on the subject.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples