The right to free education from nursery to university being enshrined in the constitution

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
July 5, 1999

The right to free education from nursery to university is unlikely to find a place in the 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 Constitutional Reform Commission discussed the issue last week against the background of a paper on the subject prepared by a sub-committee of the commission. We asked the man/woman-in-the-street to comment on the issue. Their views follow:

Ramkripaul Singh - businessman: "If my child is not granted a free education, let us say at the primary level, and I want to take the authorities to court, how do I go about it when free education is not enshrined in the constitution. This means that legally my child will be deprived of an education because of circumstances and because provision is not made for free education in the constitution. The legality of it is that private education will be in the constitution and as such free education or the right to a public education must be in the constitution. I also have a lot of confidence in the public schools but government needs to pay teachers better salaries and they will outclass the private schools."

Waveney Johnson - housewife: "It must be written in the constitution that free education must be made available for students from the nursery to university levels. In the same way provision must be made for persons who want a private education. The cost of education is high but I think that with the introduction of privately run schools people will now more value what they will obtain freely and count themselves lucky. Tuition at university is not free but provision must be made for students who cannot afford a university education to obtain it free of cost based on merit, probably through a scholarship scheme. I have had the experience where I have had to move my two children from private schools back to the public schools. My experience tells me that the public schools are still the best. In the private school to which I sent my children of primary school age, I paid an exorbitant sum of money for two children but I could not say where the money was going because I still had to teach them how to add and subtract. In addition, the administrators gave the assurance that the ministry had approved the running of the school but I do not believe this was the case. The ministry should investigate some of these private schools."

`Farmer' Singh - farmer: "When over 70 per cent of the country's people are pauperised and below the poverty line it is necessary and only basic that free education be provided by the state. It must not only be provided by the state but it must be written in the constitution. As a matter of fact it is in the present constitution and it should remain there. Who are the persons on the Constitutional Reform Commission who would not want free education to be in the constitution? I would assume that they could afford to send their children to private schools and as such are not representing the masses of the people accurately.

Donald Grant - maintenance officer: "The majority of the country's population live below the poverty line. The majority of the people are not financially well off to pay for a private education. Because of this I think it is imperative that free education at all levels must be enshrined in the constitution while provision must be made for private education as well. What government-run schools need is better inspection to see that things run smoothly. This will also ensure that parents send their children to school to get an education which could go a far way in the development of individuals, the community and the country at large. It must be written in the constitution so that education is available to both the rich and the poor. It must not be left there to be understood. If it is not written, one day a government may arise which does not see anything written and just proceeds to do away with government schools allowing anyone to do what he or she wants because it is not written in the constitution. Free education should also be made available to students at leading private schools based on merit. Systems must be put in place to ensure that this happens."

Gladys Persaud - housewife: "Government must provide education for poor people and it must be there in the constitution for all to see. I think that free education, that is not to pay school fees, is necessary especially at this time of our country's development when people could get an education which places emphasis on the development of the country. The private schools may not place emphasis on the development of the country. They may teach differently with other aims in mind. I think, too, that not everyone can afford to pay for even a basic education so free education must be in the constitution should any government come along which says that education must not be free."

James `Sparrow' Gordon - Leguan rice farmer: "I honestly believe in free education whether it is provided by religious bodies or by the state. Education is the key to success and in a country like Guyana where the majority of the people are living below the poverty line, free education must be written in the constitution. This will be especially necessary for people living in rural and country areas where people, because of economic circumstances may not be able to afford a fee. In addition it will guard against exploitation. Even the cost of books and other learning materials are expensive and these should be subsidised by the state if we are looking to develop the country and have a literate population."

Roy Lera - painter: "The choice must be there as to whether you pay a school fee or not and whether books and other learning material must be made available or not. It is true that everything has a price but I do believe that free education must be retained in our country's constitution to safeguard the rights of poor people. Many of us cannot afford to pay to send our children to private schools. Private schools are only for those who have money and can pay. It may be easier for the Ministry of Education to monitor the curriculum of public schools but it may not be so easy with the private schools. We have lots of good public schools countrywide which private schools would try to compete with. St Margaret's Primary is one such example of a public primary school and Queen's College is another of a secondary. The Constitutional Reform Commission would make a mistake if it does not include free education in our new constitution."

Michael Goodchild - private sector employee: "Free education must be enshrined in the constitution. Free education should have its limits. It should be subsidised for those in the lower income brackets and those who cannot afford to pay for an education. I feel that education from the nursery to the secondary levels must be free. At the tertiary and university levels provision for free tuition must be made for those students with the ability to go for a higher education, that is to say, government must give scholarships to high achievers."

Rueben De Freitas - farmer: "As far as I am concerned the right to free education from nursery to university should not be taken out of the constitution. Why should the commission want to take it out? Even developed countries make provision for free education up to the university level. Because tuition fees were imposed at the University of Guyana contrary to the constitution or even before the constitution has been amended my son cannot as yet go on to get a university education. I cannot afford it so he has to work and earn some money before he could even think about a university education. I think that free education is right now very necessary for the development of the country. More investments should be made in education and apart from building better schools teachers should be paid better salaries to keep them in the system so that they do not go to other countries to help develop those countries while Guyana remains backwards."

Nathaniel Daniel - private sector employee: "Naturally free education, which people interpret as not having to pay tuition fees must be retained in the constitution. Free education goes a long way in promoting the development of the country and it can go a long way in forging unity in this country. Encouraging private education can encourage discrimination and only those who can afford will be able to send their children to private schools. Right now some parents cannot even pay, or even if they can, they do not pay contingency fees which schools ask for to help meet their expenses. In the public education system there would be no discrimination as to who will get what. Mind you I have no opposition to the private schools and they may provide competition to public schools and encourage them to strive or maintain their standards of excellence."

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples