We are deluding ourselves

Cassandra's Candid Corner
Stabroek News
September 19, 1999

" Headline: "Caesar orders national probe on exodus of teachers". Well, dat is a clear case of closing dee barn door after dee horse done get away. And while educated Ed doing he thing, his spin twin Hydar Alli tell us that we, as a nation, are doing better educationally. What's the matter with these fellows? Are they mad? How can they bury their collective heads in the molasses and be unwilling to confront the reality. We who have to hire the school leavers and graduates experience their lack of education in all its manifold and manifested forms. That is the fact. No statistics (especially those including Grade III as a pass) can erase that reality. And Minister Rohee got into the act by writing a letter to the editor proclaiming a turnaround in the performance of our students. Surely the Minister has more important things to do like answering the Stabroek News editorial, which highlighted - as a response to the goodly Minister's challenge - deficiencies in the work of his Ministry. But, no. We prefer to go dancing around the bush deluding ourselves, not bothering with the morass in which our educational system finds itself.

Look, just as how an alcoholic must first recognise his addiction, so too must our leaders accept that education is in crisis and must be treated as a national emergency. Perhaps, even before recognising that reality, we must understand that education is the single most important tile in the total mosaic of national development.

Next, we must have a National Commission of Enquiry on Education. We have been having Commissions of Enquiry on everything from changing the Constitution to how many electrical appliances were burnt up because of increased voltage. Then we may have to research certain issues, if we don't know the answers as yet. For example, where are the weakest points in the system? Is it first and foremost our primary education which is most fragile? There are many who will argue that although there is room for massive improvement, a large percentage of students exiting primary schools nationwide are not irreparably damaged. In fact many are convinced that the kids have been reasonably well stimulated and possess a basic knowledge which could stand them in good stead when exposed to secondary education.

If, on the other hand, the research shows us that the educational battering takes place in our secondary schools, then we must focus our resources towards this target. You know, there was a time when a student would go home crying, because he only got five subjects at GCE O'Level. I remember a colleague, a friend of mine to this day, tearing down in shame the list of those who passed. My friend had only achieved 5 passes at GCE - Cambridge O' Level. Now those 5 subjects would practically guarantee him a place in our premier institution of tertiary education.

Stop spouting vague, nonsensical figures. Tell, us how many of the 14000 plus who took the 'Common Entrance' (SSEE) have gone on to get a good secondary education which will arm them for the future. Tell us how many of those who write CXC get passes in Grades I and II. How many of these go on to 'A' Levels? Tell us honestly, without fear - for we are all in this boat together - how many young people, on leaving school, are without basic skills in literacy and numeracy, and how many have no marketable skill at all.

Then tell us about those youths who are thrown into so-called technical and vocational programmes run by sharks incarnate in unqualified and unregulated private bottom house sweat shops. These pseudo information imparters steal the young people's money, while serving up unsatisfactory programmes in typing, hairdressing, business administration, computer proficiency, etc. Who monitors this racket which parasitises on those youths who failed the school system or who the school system failed? I think it was Ken Ramchand of Trinidad who said that the system does not even recognise their existence and therefore there is no attempt to come to terms with their presence. We have a flourishing black market trade in education which exists, in some cases exploitatively, without rules and regulations and with scandalous impunity. Look, you spin doctors if you must leave apprenticeship training in the hands of business and industry, then you must ensure that it is done with your supervision and in collaboration with competent educationists.

Yes, I really do think that there is a dire need for a Commission of Enquiry into the status praesens and possible solutions to the crisis in education. There must be an official forum at which the populace can offer solutions to the problem. I know, that I'll be first in line. Education is too important to be left solely in the hands of pretenders, knee-jerk reactionists and deceivers.

And speak of knee-jerk reaction. This issue of banning boots ("outlawing certain types of footwear") in school, as an immediate result of a young lady's demise is logically very ridiculous. Out of my respect and sympathy for the girl's family, I will not dwell on the issue of the possible causes of the suicide. However, before anyone makes a ruling on which clothes a child must wear, this issue must be debated in its entirety, taking into consideration the larger sociological and economic picture (to say nothing of the legal aspects of such a ruling).

Space this week does not permit me to deal with Mr Clarence F. Ellis' questions relative to the need for a bridge over the Berbice River and a U.G. Campus in Berbice. Also, thoughts on "collective leadership" need to be shared. Those issues will have to wait until next week.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples