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Education Minister Dr. Henry Jeffrey at a press conference yesterday at the National Centre for Education Research and Development (NCERD), Kingston, said that under the five-year Strategic Plan for education (2003-2007) several areas of education delivery have been identified for further improvements during this year.
Reviewing the performance of the education sector for last year, Dr. Jeffrey observed that good progress was made when the available resources are taken into consideration. He commended the dedication of teachers and administrators and pointed out that there was significant improvements in the school environments, but conceded that more needed to be done.
"Due to the hard work and dedication of our teachers and administrators, the Ministry continued to make good progress in 2002. Given the kind of resources at our disposal, our outcomes have been creditable. For example, school environments have improved significantly although there is still much more to be done; we have completed and circulated our non-academic standards and policies on school feeding, book distribution, corporal punishment, school canteen and regional educational organisation. On the examination front, we have had 77.1 % of passes at the CXC although our performances in English and Mathematics need to significantly improve," the Minister observed.
The education sector continues to receive a fair proportion of national income, the Minister noted, pointing out that at present it stands at 8.3 % of Gross Domestic Product and from this year it will benefit from a Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded programme, the Basic Education Access and Management Support (BEAMS), and the World Bank supported education for all initiative which address basic quality issues such as teacher training, education management, continuous assessment and testing and hinterland educational improvements among others. The BEAMS programme will bring in US$100M to the sector, and about 12, 000 students would be exposed to training in computer skills, Dr. Jeffrey reported.
Responding to the criticism by the Working People's Alliance (WPA) that the recent increases to teachers salaries were unilaterally imposed and disregarded the trade union collective bargaining agreement, Dr. Jeffrey referred to a clause in the collective agreement between the Education Ministry and the Guyana Teachers' Union (GTU), which states that there must be mutual consent from both parties on the implementation of arbitration. However, while both parties agreed on arbitration, the GTU did not attend the meeting that was fixed to set the modalities for arbitration. Consequently, the administration was under pressure to pay some kind of increase before the end of the year and 'no way the process would have completed in time' to effect payments before year end, thus it was decided by Cabinet to go ahead and pay increases ranging between 15 and five percent, the Minister added.
However, he emphasised that the Ministry will continue to seek a partnership with the GTU to further enhance the working conditions of teachers.
Speaking on some of the measures that will be implemented this year, the Minister said:"There are many sub-goals but the Ministry will continue in 2003 to place considerable emphasis on improved school management. Among other things, all school heads must ensure:
* The maximum and prompt attendance of teachers and pupils.
* That all teachers continuously upgrade their skills and that structured staff development sessions are regularly held.
* That the learning environment is well planned and managed.
* Widespread community participation in school management and other activities.
* That reports by the inspectorate are discussed at parents and community meetings.
* The existence of a school improvement plan."
An innovation that will be implemented during this year will be an incentive scheme to reward school improvement and will be regionally and nationally based and input, output and process indicators will be so designed to give each school an equal chance of winning the awards. According to Dr. Jeffrey the scheme has already been "conceptualised" and a draft plan has been completed.
Emphasis will also be placed on four other in -school activities, these include the promotion of Physical Education (PE) and in this regard, the curriculum teachers ' guides and manuals are in place while training programmes are being conducted in all regions.
Moral and health and family issues will be dealt with through a family life curriculum. Dr.Nat Cooper, from the US based centre for Character Development who was here last year will be back to help in the development of the curriculum.
School and road safety campaigns in collaboration with the Guyana Police force will be conducted and according to Chief Education Officer, Ed Caesar this will form a key component of the schools time-tables.
The enhancement of the school environment will be encouraged through the formation of environmental committees, campaigns and competitions among others.
On the issue of teacher migration, Dr. Jeffrey gave the assurance that there has not been any dramatic increase, disclosing that it has remained constant at 200-230 per year.