Education is key to development A GINA feature by Harnarine Singh
Guyana Chronicle
July 28, 2002

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IT WAS reported in the editorial columns of the Guyana Chronicle on July 16, 2002, that a visiting Commonwealth scholar, Professor Gajaraj Dhanarajan, asserted that over the centuries, education has been recognised as the most powerful agent of change.

He also 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.

Since the assumption of office by the PPP/C Government in 1992, a major plank of the Government’s policy has been concentrated on education. The late Dr. Cheddi Jagan gave the task of modernising Guyana’s educational system to Dr. Dale Bisnauth, the first Education Minister in the PPP/C administration. Bisnauth had a most unenviable job. It is in order here to recount what he inherited.

In October 1992, the country’s educational system had become a national disgrace. The physical infrastructure was in total disrepair; almost all the schools were in a dilapidated state, posing grave danger to our children. Furniture was in short supply with political affiliation rather than needs, determining supply. All school essentials, including chalk, teaching aids and supplies, were limited. Teacher shortage was evident everywhere, Equipment for vocational and technical education was non-existent, and low salaries for teachers was the order of the day. There was also a high dropout rate among students.

This general malaise in education was translated into scandalous results at the Caribbean Examination Council’s (CXC) examinations. Guyanese students performed the worst among all Caribbean students taking this exam. And this disgraceful performance persisted for many years, so much so that our children became the object of derision among their Caribbean counterparts. We truly were at the lowest ebb, in terms of education, by 1992.

Dr. Bisnauth and his successor, Dr. Henry Jeffrey, had their work cut out for them, but they stuck to their tasks manfully. First of all, the education budget, which was below $1B in 1992, has now been increased to almost $10B, or almost 17 per cent of the National Budget. This massive increase has been translated into magnificent achievements in the education sector over the last ten years.

More than 800 schools nationwide have been built, renovated or repaired; teachers’ training colleges have been established in several areas outside of Georgetown, with more than 600 teachers being trained annually; teachers’ salaries have been increased significantly over the 1992 level; almost all schools now have proper furniture and supplies; adequate and modern equipment are now in evidence in all schools; schools throughout the country, including nursery schools, are now being equipped with computers; school-feeding programmes and uniforms for poor children have been reintroduced; sports gear is now in adequate supply in all schools; more secondary schools have been built or established, with the result that over 60 per cent of our children are now in secondary schools, as against a mere 35 per cent ten years ago; a new Information Technology Centre has been built in Berbice; a new technical institute has been established in Essequibo, while a branch of the University of Guyana has been set up in Berbice.

More importantly, the results of Guyanese students at the CXC examinations have shot up remarkably with percentage passes now consistently in the seventies. Three times in five years, Guyanese students topped the Caribbean in these exams, something not dreamed of earlier. Even in the General Certificate of Education Examination (GCE) A’Level exam, Guyanese students managed to come out on top in at least one year.

From `poor-house to power-house
The results have been remarkable, astounding even the Government’s most implacable critics. The successes give credence to the Ministry of Education’s Mission Statement and mandate which is: To ensure that all citizens of Guyana, regardless of age, race or creed, physical or mental disability are given the best possible opportunity to achieve their full potential through equal access to quality education as defined by the standards and norms outlined by the Ministry.

According to Dudley Seers in `The Meaning of Development’, economic development is defined as “the reduction and elimination of poverty, inequality and unemployment within a growing society”. Sometimes the term Human Development is used to describe economic development. Michael Todaro argues that development should “expand the range of economic and social choice to individuals and nations by freeing them from servitude and dependence, not only in relation to other people and nation states, but also to the forces of ignorance and human misery”.

Education, therefore, has a direct bearing on the level of economic development of a country. Economic development of course is linked to the standard of living, since, in a buoyant economy, it is likely that the standard of living of the people will be high, as compared to a struggling economy where the standard of living will most likely be in decline.

Another way to view this scenario is to take a look at the Socio-Economic Status (SES) of the citizens of the state. The SES is determined by three factors - education, occupation and income. One can clearly discern that education is the defining factor here in that a person’s level of education determines income. The SES is used by the United Nations (UN) as a Human Development Indicator, which, according to the above definition, is another term for economic development. The UN also uses what is termed the Human Development Index which includes life expectancy, literacy and average income. Literacy is another term for education, and we can see how important this factor is when considering development.

In Professor Dhanarajan’s recent lecture at the University of Guyana, he outlined the progress made by a number of countries throughout the world especially in East Asia. Such countries include Japan, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. These countries, at the beginning of the second half of the last century, had very bleak economic forecasts and were considered to be impoverished. However, by the turn of this century, the picture had completely changed with all these countries displaying amazing economic growth rates, so much so, they were described as being transformed from “poor-house to power-house”.

The Professor then remarked that there are many factors contributing to this change but “investment in education and more education is probably the most important of all”.

This is exactly what the Guyana Government has been doing - investing in more and more education. The record is there for all to see and need not be rehashed here. Some critics with nothing substantial in which to engage the Government have been casting aspersions on the Government’s education policy and programmes. Misguided critics have inferred that education is not development, and that the resources expended on education could have been diverted to other sectors.

However, this view has now been completely debunked by Professor Dhanarajan. The Government of Guyana is so right that greater investment in education is not only necessary for rapid and comprehensive development, but education is an important component of development itself and an agent of social and economic change.