Four-year $10M basic skills project targeting youths
-Bisnauth says education must be utilitarian

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
November 20, 1999

The Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE) of the University of Guyana (UG), in collaboration with the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC), has launched a four-year $10-million project on literacy, numeracy and entrepreneurship for youths.

The project is being funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). It was launched at a national consultation held under the theme `Literacy for a new economy: A National Strategy for Development' at the Ocean View Convention Centre, Liliendaal on Tuesday.

Coordinator and Resident Tutor of the UG/IDCE Anna Regina Centre, Gene Amsterdam, in an overview of the project said that $2.5 million will be disbursed annually over the four-year period and it will target youths between the ages of 14 to 24 years.

Amsterdam said that the objective of the project is to strengthen the essential skills required for young people to become empowered through employment and through effective functioning in their work places, communities and families.

The capability of the IDCE and ACCC, she said, will be strengthened to improve the target group's essential skills "by working with and providing training for community outreach networking links" in the country's ten administrative regions.

The `results-driven' project is aimed at developing skills which will create increased employment and heighten job performance. It is expected that at the end of the project at least 4,200 youths will be employed, be employable or will become self-employed.

At the end of the project the IDCE will conduct a larger survey of Guyanese youths in general and compare the results to the 1995 study done on functional illiteracy by Professor Zellynne Jennings and team.

The Canadian community colleges involved in the project are Bow Valley which will provide the expertise for literacy and essential skills; Mount Royal College which will provide the expertise in business, entrepreneurship and marketing and Fanshawe, which will deal with numeracy and the Caribbean market.

The basic foundation of the project will be an understanding of employment needs and opportunities in Guyana as well as the literacy and numeracy needs of the country's youths. At the end of the project some 175 teachers, tutors and volunteers will have effective teaching tools, materials and skills; the IDCE overall programme delivery will be enhanced and there will be an increased pool of employable and functionally literate youths within given sectors of the economy where skilled labour will be required.

Amsterdam noted that the project will be conducted in six phases over the four years. Phase One will deal with data/information collection which has begun while Phase Two will look at curricula definition. Phase Three will tackle training the trainers who will be working in the various regions and Phase Four will cover awareness generation in the mass media.

Phase Five, which begins in the second year, will focus on the training of youths in a two-year period. The first year will concentrate on basic literacy and numeracy skills. The second year will be on developing business and entrepreneurial skills.

Phase six will deal with diagnostic tests and evaluation. These will begin in the second year and will end in the final year.

Amsterdam feels that the project will complement the Commonwealth Youth Initiative and the President's Awards Scheme which was launched late last year by then president, Janet Jagan.

Delivering brief remarks at the launching ceremony were the Marketing Manager of Bow Valley College, Nikki Croft, Chief Education Officer, Ed Caesar and IDCE Director, Samuel Small, who made some remarks on behalf of the UG Vice Chancellor.

Education Minister, Dr Dale Bisnauth, who delivered the keynote address said that Guyana's new economy must be related to the development of the country. Literacy, numeracy and entrepreneurship must deal with how the country's young people will function within the new economy. Education, he said, must give them the option of choice. Expressing the view that education must be utilitarian, Dr Bisnauth said that it must be useful for something. It must be useful for equipping its beneficiaries with life skills including those of communication, thinking skills, computation and problem solving as well as the capacity for imagination.

The Education Minister said that he argues with senior officials of the Ministry of Finance "over and over again that an unacceptable level of functional illiteracy is a large barrier to development."

It is common knowledge, he said, that the modern economy requires a well prepared adaptable labour force.

He believes in technological advancement to enhance education and development in spite of those who argue that the thesaurus and the grammar check function of the computer minimises the significance of functional literacy and that the calculator undermines the need for more than bare numeracy.

Noting with interest that those who are to benefit from the programme were absent at the launching ceremony, Dr Bisnauth said the problem is not only to provide access to numeracy and literacy programmes but to convert the potential beneficiaries to believe that they will indeed benefit from numeracy and literacy programmes.

He said that "from our perspective of national interest and national well-being, we view with alarm today the drop-outs from the education system and rightly so." "Maybe we have to take a hard look" at drop-outs and eliminate the causes that are driving them to leave the education system, he added.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples