Education for nation building By Hydar Ally
Guyana Chronicle
July 4, 2002

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THERE is a saying that it is not possible to be educated and poor at the same time. People who are educated tend to enjoy a much higher quality of life than someone with low levels of educational attainment.

This is why the Government of Guyana is putting so much emphasis on lifting the quality of education delivery, with particular focus on literacy and numeracy, which is the bedrock on which all-subsequent learning rests. The current Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, which the Government is pursuing in collaboration with the international financial institutions and the donor community, has as its centrepiece the empowerment of people through the medium of education.

At the global level, the gap in living standards between the rich and the poor continues to widen, due mainly to better access to quality education to children and young people in the rich countries. Poor countries, in contrast, are finding it increasingly difficult to finance education out of their limited resources. Many countries are unable to adequately respond to the challenges of the emerging knowledge-based society where access to knowledge and information is the only hope for success in life and upward social mobility.

In recognition of this fact, the World Education Forum, which was held in Dakar, Senegal two years ago, came up with a Framework for Action which links improvements in the quality of basic education to the effective acquisition of essential life-skills. Hence the need to ensure that every child that leaves school is functionally literate and numerate. There can be no justification for children who complete an entire cycle of schooling at the primary level not to be able to read and write properly. Schools must be held accountable when children leave without grasping basic learning skills.

In relative terms, Guyana is not doing too badly when it comes to accessing education. We have almost universal coverage at the nursery and primary levels and we are now moving in the direction of universal secondary education. Indeed, Guyana stands out as having the best coverage in the field of early childhood education in the Caribbean. Unlike some countries of Africa and Asia, which are grappling with the education of girls, we have in Guyana and the Caribbean the phenomenon of male underachievement in competitive examinations where males are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with females within the same age cohort.

As I mentioned earlier, education is a key factor in the national quest for a peaceful and prosperous society. An educated person is less likely to get involved in criminal and anti-social activities. They lead more responsible lives and are much more tolerant of the views of others. Put in a different way, education liberates the mind from prejudice and hate which have the potential to rip entire societies apart as happened in places like Rwanda, Bosnia and the Middle East.

This is why the acquisition of social skills is not simply an individual or a technical matter. It is also a national issue on which the peace and stability of an entire nation depends. This is of particular relevance to multi-ethnic societies such as ours where the tendency to fall in the trap of ethnocentrism, that is the tendency to view everything through the prism of one’s own culture and value system.

Education means nothing if it does not provide us with the skills to live in unity and peace with our fellow human beings, regardless of race, religion or creed.

While we have to be thankful for the progress we have made so far in terms of education enhancement, we cannot be complacent. There is still a lot of work to be done.