The teacher crisis

Stabroek News
November 16, 1999

Last week President Jagdeo was reported as telling the students of Linden that improving the standard of education was one of the key elements in the Government's plan to take the country into the next millennium. Nevertheless, he did confess to the gathering that while spending in the eductation sector had increased by 300 per cent over the last few years, there was little to show for it. Too true. But then much of the outlay has gone into physical infrastructure in a context where there is still a desperate shortage of teachers and books, not to mention equipment like computers. A good teacher with no facilities - in the humanities, at least - could make an impact on some apparently unpromising pupils sitting under a mango tree, while the best appointed of schools will not produce results if the quality of the teaching is poor.

In an oblique kind of way, President Jagdeo perhaps acknowledged this by saying that the education sector would focus on teacher training, which would be taken to the outlying areas. In addition, he said that in-service training was being implemented. The problem though, as the President must be only too well aware, is not so much training more teachers, as anchoring the teachers who have been trained to the local schools. For many years now, the education systems in some of the small islands of the Caribbean have been heavily dependent on Guyanese personnel; they hardly need to train their own teachers, because Guyana is performing that service for them. And now we have countries like Botswana enticing away the few remaining qualified and/or trained staff in our education sector. Whatever is the point of training teachers for export?

The President was also reported to have remarked on the modernising of the curriculum. Certainly some portions need to be upgraded, but it is like rehabilitating the schools; unless there are teachers of quality to implement it, the most relevant curriculum in the world will have little impact on the dismal performance rate of so many of our schoolchildren.

Let us stop pussyfooting around. Let us call a spade, a spade - or in this case, a teacher crisis, a teacher crisis. There are, of course, other related problems in education such as a chronic shortage of books and an absence of computers in this technological age of ours; but those are separate issues which are not incapable of solution if those who sit behind the desks in Brickdam were prepared to apply some imagination to them.

So what is the Government's plan to deal with the teacher crisis both in the short and the long term? The recent twelve per cent award won't do it, although the Ministry of Education some time ago did make reference to looking at conditions for teachers, such as housing. That was a commendable idea, but nothing further has been heard of it.

In the short term we need some kind of stop-gap arrangement which would put a large number of qualified teachers into the schools for let us say the next five years or so, and in the longer term, we need to consider strategies to attract back Guyanese teaching staff from abroad - a reverse Botswana, if you like. Stop-gap measures might involve exploring the possibility of devising programmes which could appeal to young second-generation Guyanese in North America and Britain, who could work on two-year contracts in a similar way to VSO's. Whether schemes of this kind would be feasible or not, remains to be seen, but we need some bold thinking if we are not to lose the current generation of students as we have lost the previous ones.

Whatever it is the Government does about the teacher shortfall, it needs to do it quickly. If it doesn't, it might as well write off the coming years of the next millennium for Guyana.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples