Transforming a country from `poorhouse to powerhouse' Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
July 16, 2002

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IN A lecture presentation at the University of Guyana in March 2001, visiting Commonwealth scholar, Professor Gajaraj Dhanarajan asserted that over centuries, education has been recognised as the most powerful agent for change. Speaking on the topic “Combating Poverty Through Adult Education”, Professor Dhanarajan traced the history of people he deemed ‘children of the 20th century’ through colonialism to present-day “achievements of science and technology, a freer flow of information; a few uncertain steps towards the universal rule of laws; a greater access to education and health for most and an acceptance of the principles of equality for all human beings”.

“Notwithstanding these achievements,” he told his audience, “we still live in a world of great inequality. A good part of humanity is still denied access to an equal share of the planet’s wealth, to justice, to a decent living; the disparity between those who have and those who do not in terms of food, health care and social security continues to be appalling,” the Professor pointed out.

He then gave his listeners some insights into the recent history of impoverished sections of the globe. He recounted that the `Economist' had said that at the beginning of the second half of the 20th century, half of Japan's workforce was in the paddy fields, Singapore was still a mosquito-ridden and politically volatile colony, Hong Kong a small port coping with refugees from neighbouring Guangdong and other coastal provinces of China, Taiwan was also hopelessly coping with its own stream of refugees from Shanghai, Korea was on the brink of a civil war and poorer even than the Sudan, Mainland China was going through its trauma of the cultural revolution and the ASEAN nations were overall struggling with pre- or post-Independence political challenges.

Continuing, Professor Dhanarajan then contrasted this bleak 50-year-old picture with the modern development of these eastern countries. "By early 1990," he said, "these nations were in the middle of an economic boom sustaining annual growth rates of about seven per cent perhaps two or three times faster than that of any other part of the world. You know, of course, that at the start of this millennium the average Taiwanese was richer than most New Zealanders; the people of Hong Kong were much better off in wealth than their former colonial masters; Singapore better off than most Europeans and South Koreans having a GDP in excess of US$6,000. Coupled to the economic growth are social developments that indicate that the average East Asian will be healthier, have a longer life expectancy and will be better fed and sheltered. While there are many factors that may have contributed to changing the region from `poorhouse to powerhouse', investment in education and more education is probably the most important of all."

He argued that if persons accept the premise that education, more than any other factor, can make the difference between wealth and poverty, health and misery, conservation and destruction, national unity and division, then the levelling of educational opportunities must be a priority for all who care about their fellow citizens.

Professor Dhanarajan is so right in his thesis that greater investment in education is necessary for rapid and comprehensive development. We do believe that the pursuit of formal education, hand-in-hand with suitable skills training programmes, will in time impact favourably on Guyana’s potential for economic prosperity. We are grateful to Professor Dhanarajan for reminding Guyanese of the unlimited possibilities that can abound when most of the citizens are allowed the opportunity of developing their intellectual, artistic and physical capacities to the fullest.