Education renewal for children
December 1, 2002
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Commercial printing in Guyana started a little over 200 years ago. For half of that period, most Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, Indians, Portuguese and people of mixed blood were not literate in English and such books as became available benefited only a few.
The introduction of compulsory denominational primary education in 1876, however, made a change. Literacy spread, scores of newspapers were published, particularly by non-Europeans, and the control of social knowledge by the plantocracy and the priesthood was smashed.
Resistance by the emergent non-European middle class increased, forcing constitutional changes and fostering economic diversification and social transformation. This process was promoted, in part, by the dissemination of the printed word by the newspaper and book. So, in Guyana, it could be claimed that the improvement in literacy after 1876 triggered a social revolution.
Book publishing in Guyana, historically, has been linked to the major newspaper - the Argosy and the Chronicle. Indeed, several outstanding books by authors of renown such as Norman Cameron, Edgar Duke, Guy De Weever, James Rodway, Vincent Roth, Peter Ruhoman, Arthur Seymour and Arthur Webber were published, mainly by newspaper, in this country.
Apart from newspaper companies, however, no real long-lived, book publishing company has ever survived in Guyana. The unsettled conditions in the country - from the disturbances of the 1960s, through the depression of the 1980s throttled the business of publishing.
The sad legacy of that decline is that, despite the efforts of a few entrepreneurs to establish the publishing enterprise on a sound economic footing, perhaps fewer than 100 new books are published in Guyana every year, most coming from printeries but published by the authors themselves.
Inevitably, this practice triggered a vicious cycle. Unable to find professional publishers, few take the trouble to write; as a result, fewer books are available, causing the market to contract, discouraging entrepreneurs from entering the field as professional publishers and so on.
Even now, entries for the prestigious Guyana Prize for Literature are dominated by books published by overseas-based Guyanese, not in Guyana, but abroad. Half a year after the awards have been made, those prize-winning books may still be unavailable to the general public.
These conditions make it important to re-establish the habit of reading and to inculcate that discipline in young Guyanese. Reading, especially books by or about Guyanese, helps to mould the national identity and enhance personal self-esteem. Access to books is the gateway to good education and the enjoyment of the intellectual heritage of human civilisation.
This book fair ambitiously aims at bringing children into contact with books; writers with readers; booksellers with buyers; and the State with the private sector.
Hopefully, also, it will trigger a virtuous circle. By creating a demand for books, serious writers will emerge and entrepreneurs and banks will be prepared to take the risk of investing, confident that their products will be sold.
The Guyana Book Foundation’s Book Fair this year, therefore, could serve as an alarm to alert all our people to the universal and enduring importance of the book.
We have still to learn the lessons that the successful book-based cultures of the world have learnt, and place the book at the centre of our educational, economic and political development.
It is therefore most appropriate that the Guyana Book Foundation (GBF) should be the organisation to mount this national book fair.
Established in 1990 as a not-for-profit NGO and incorporated under the Companies Act, the Foundation’s goal is to improve children’s literacy throughout Guyana.
It does this by providing reading materials for children through the distribution of books to schools, community libraries, reading groups and educational organisations; through community library development and training with special emphasis on the hinterland areas; supporting the local publishing industry and providing greater access to local books; publishing books for children; improving teaching skills to facilitate literacy development and building partnerships with NGOs to support a literate environment.
The GBF has been able to implement its literacy projects in partnership with other national NGOs, and with funding from the Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE) and support from the Ministry of Education and the Guyanese public. The GBF was also awarded contracts to implement literacy projects funded by the European Union and the Government of Guyana, and has worked closely with other NGOs, community-based organisations, book publishers, booksellers and women’s organisations.
The Foundation did not spring, fully-formed, from nowhere. It was conceived in the heads and hearts of veteran educationists Mrs Olga Bone and Ms Agnes Jones who founded ‘Education Renewal’ (ER), a private initiative to help young persons who wanted to learn but, for various reasons, had dropped out, or been kept out, of the formal education system.
Starting with small classes in makeshift premises made available by friendly religious bodies and others during the 1980s, ER was able to make its mark by transforming the lives of a few students. The Foundation is that Bone-Jones idea grown up into an institution.
For 12 years, the Guyana Book Foundation built a consistent record of work in support of children’s literacy in Guyana. Agreements with CODE allowed GBF to implement projects throughout the country in the provision and distribution of education materials.
Over the last seven years, GBF distributed 400,000 books to approximately 490 schools; established 26 community libraries in the Barima-Waini; Pomeroon-Supenaam; Essequibo-West Demerara; Demerara-Mahaica; East Berbice-Corentyne; Cuyuni-Mazaruni; Potaro-Siparuni and Upper Essequibo-Upper Takutu Regions.
The Foundation also trained 300 library assistants and teachers in library management and book repair and upgraded the literacy promoting skills of over 2,000 literacy workers and teachers from nursery, primary and secondary schools.
It supported several local publications other than children’s books; and it published 12 children’s books including books by Walter Rodney, Jan Carew, Olga Bone and a health series for children in the hinterland regions.
The Foundation is committed to improving children’s literacy by encouraging Guyanese children to read more.
The Book Fair is all about giving children access to books. Children’s literacy is the reason that the Foundation intends to mount this national book fair annually to mark World Book Day and, with the support of our partners, hope to make more of Guyana’s children literate.