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Even if, like all of us, he is sometimes wrong, Ian McDonald has always attempted to be politically objective and generally fair. Certainly never malicious, I have always thought him to be most meticulous. So, as a fellow layman, I was most surprised the instant, as he requested in his last column in the Sunday Stabroek ("Getting back to where we were before" SN: 17/03/02),I "cast my eyes on the data."
How could he believe that Guyana, with a considerably smaller population and no greater wealth than Trinidad and Jamaica, could possibly have had more 'O' Level entrances? (The tenacity of that "strange impression" of the "old enough"). At the very least, such a proposition, from whatever source it emanated, required further investigation.
Mr. McDonald's contention that a larger English Language and English Literature entrance at fifth form examinations is necessarily evidence of a higher level of English understanding and appreciation in a society is tenuous. Nonetheless please cast your eyes at the true figures which severely diminish even this positions as it relates to Guyana.
English Language 16+ exam results
It is well accepted that there is still an enormous amount to do to achieve our educational goals and I can assure Mr. McDonald that our Strategic Plan, which focuses on literacy and numeracy, will be fully implemented. Indeed, under a special programme, over the next four years, our Ministry will spend over $4bn on quality issues. However, the data indicates that, based upon his criteria, the "resounding, even miraculous, achievement" Mr. McDonald desires may already have substantially materialized.
As Mr. McDonald suggested, intellectually, we all know that the "good old days" were never that good. Nevertheless, emotionally I too sometimes get intoxicated by imaginarily savouring a drop of Russian bear Rum. That is why I usually guard against "using statistics like a drunken man uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination."
Henry B. Jeffrey
Minister of Education