Education for human development Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
May 31, 2002

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(A computer glitch yesterday resulted in this leader being truncated. So, today, we offer the full text of the editorial.)

SOMETIME in the late 1970s, European donors were financing the construction of a modern water supply system for the people of The Gambia – a tiny nation state in West Africa. As the project neared completion, the engineers arrived at the sad conclusion that there were no Gambians with the required skills to maintain the water system. One British engineer, who had laboured on the project, confided to a visiting Guyanese that the Gambians, who were workers or low-level technicians, did not possess the required academic level to read and interpret specifications in the functioning of the project. And, conversely, the educated young people, who would be perfect material for advanced skills training to administer the water system, were more attracted to the country’s tourism industry, which in their perception, offered much more prestige. In the view of these articulate young school-leavers, working in grease and dirt was demeaning to their education as well as to their personhood. At that time, The Gambia was said to have 85 per cent illiteracy.

One could well appreciate the massive problems governments and development agents are certain to encounter when confronted with such cultural mind-sets. Such an ingrained distaste for jobs, which would involve getting one’s hands soiled and the converse over-glorification of the task of waiting at table spell disaster and further backwardness in a nation that is woefully short of skilled and semi-skilled personnel. Consequently, governments and donor agencies would be required to expend millions of hard currency dollars to hire persons with the necessary skills and to employ them without any hope of preparing a cadre of local technicians to take over from the foreigners after a transfer of skills.

In recent years, the National Budget has been increasing allocations to the education sector, because, in the words of the Guyana Ministry of Finance, “major improvements in the education system are pivotal to progress in national development”.

This assertion is so apposite, so correct that one would think it hardly needs restating. But its reiteration will serve to underscore in the minds of parents, teachers and personnel involved in the delivery of education of their obligation and duty of ensuring that each child is afforded the opportunity of becoming literate and numerate, and that as many children as possible are allowed access to a secondary education and/or be given the opportunity of acquiring technical or vocational training.

A state may have the best plans for development and all the necessary finances to pursue those plans. Yet, if there is an acute shortage of trained or educated human personnel to interpret, analyse and prosecute the strategies articulated by the plans, that nation will continue to be underdeveloped and its populace will slide into an abyss of backwardness and hopelessness.

When persons are educated they are equipped with the knowledge to reason, discern and arrive at their own conclusions on issues affecting both their livelihoods and their participation in civic affairs. They are empowered to make intelligent choices on matters concerning their personal development, the nurturing of their children and the political shade of their government. Education broadens the knowledge base of the individual and could help in promoting tolerance and understanding among peoples.

South African Nobel Laureate for Literature, Ms Nadine Gordimer, describes the condition of the illiterate or uneducated mind as “a deprivation of the intellect, of the world of ideas, from which millions suffer often without knowing it, condemned to plod through their lives at the lowest level of human consciousness”. Gordimer believes that if the mind is allowed to remain at this level, it would never develop the conceptual tools to explore the wonderment of existence, and “to enjoy music, literature and the beauty of form”.

The investment in human capital by way of education will not only facilitate national development but will also liberate positive human potential.