More emphasis to be placed on teachers, text books

By Courtney Jones
Stabroek News
March 30, 1998

Government has decided to call a halt to school building after the current round of construction is completed and there will be greater focus on other key areas such as teacher education and supplies for schools.

This was disclosed by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Hydar Ally during a meeting on Thursday convened by concerned parents and educators.

Ally told the gathering that the building of schools will cease and there will be heightened attention on teacher education and provision of education materials including text books and other school supplies.

"We have begun to negotiate with the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) to use the money which was originally earmarked for infrastruture works to deal with the areas I have spoken about", Ally added.

Views have been expressed by educationists that there should be less emphasis on school building and more on ensuring quality teachers and enhanced supplies for schools. They note that large outlays over a number of years on school buildings have not translated into measurable improvements in exam results.

A number of issues relating to the state of education took centre stage during the well-attended meeting at St Stephen's Primary school.

The meeting was organised by the newly formed Committee of Concerned Parents and Educators, whose members include veteran educators Olga Bone and Edith Pieters, Mickey Anderson, Leslyn Wilkinson, Sase Omo and Barbara Stephens. The initiative was a response to what the committee described as a crisis in the education system in Guyana.

Parents and teachers from the St Stephen's, Ketley, Freeburg and Smith's Church primary schools spoke about issues like the scarcity of trained teachers, the paucity of text books, a general lack of interest by some parents in their children's schooling and a seeming lack of commitment, especially among some young teachers in the education sector. Of particular concern to parents, was the fact that a large percentage of the teachers in primary schools in the city was not trained.

"As parents we are concerned that our children in some schools which are not so-called top schools are not getting the benefit of expert tuition from properly trained teachers," one parent told the audience in the packed St Stephen's upper flat. The parent noted that there was a perception among parents that the Ministry of Education places more emphasis on providing teachers for those top schools.

But Anderson, a lecturer at one of the teacher training institutions, said government, for the past two years, had embarked on a policy to ensure that there were more trained teachers in the system.

"Last year, we put about 500 trained teachers in the system and this year about 1,000 trained teachers will be produced," Anderson said.

She noted that of the 500 teachers trained last year more than half have remained in the system.

Parents were of the view that unless the Education Ministry gave serious attention to teachers' salaries, the current situation in schools will not be very easily reversed.

"Our children tell us that many times teachers are absent in the schools. Even though we know that some attend the university, we know that in many cases absenteeism in school means that the teachers are not motivated," one parent said.

Parents were also concerned that "to a very large extent" there were not enough text books in the schools, and this, coupled with the fact that in very many cases parents could not afford to buy these books, was another contributor to the falling standards in education.

"Most of us at these schools are single parents and we are already hard pressed to buy food and clothing for our children. We would like to see the ministry pay special attention to providing text books for our children," one parent observed.

There was also much concern expressed by members of the committee that many children in the four schools represented at the meeting, came from home situations that were less than desirable.

Parents were of the view that the unavailability of low cost housing resulting in many families sub-letting and the conditions in squatting areas surrounding the city were causing almost irreparable damage to the learning process in schools in the city.

According to Anderson, there are too many children on the streets very early in the morning and late in the night, helping parents at roadside stalls, or outside the municipal markets.

"[This and] ... the fact that these children sometimes have to travel in cramped and noisy mini-buses to get to school, are having a negative effect on their learning ability," Anderson said.

She noted that there was a disturbing trend among parents to buy expensive clothes and jewellery for themselves and their children "at the expense of a proper meal and school equipment such as pencils and text books."

The headmistress of Freeburg Primary made an impassioned plea for parents to get more involved in their children's education.

"Parents must help us teachers by working with the children at home, ensuring that they spend time [reading] and less time looking at the television," she urged.

"A school is as strong as the community in which it is situated." Ally, in a short address to the gathering, described the meeting as a "very good and timely initiative".

"We at the ministry recognise that the education system is in a poor state and are committed to improving its quality," Ally assured his audience.

He referred to the current Primary Education Improvement Project (PEIP) and the Secondary School Reform Project as tangible evidence of government's determination to rehabilitate the system.

"I have noted all your concerns and assure you that we have already begun to address these problems at the primary level," Ally said.

Wilkinson told Stabroek News that the committee intended to hold a similar meeting with parents and teachers of four more schools soon. She said that at the end of the series of meetings a report will be compiled for submission to the Education Ministry.