The impulse to oppose!
Guyana Chronicle
September 29, 2003

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IF democracy is what it is said to be - the freedom to say 'no' - then Guyana is a free, democratic state, alright.

Take education. When the Education Ministry announced in August that student performance at this year's SSEE was the best in about 20 years, not everyone cheered.

Far from being elevating the results to something close to a national consciousness, sections of our society challenged the credibility of the ministry's statistics with great passion.

One opinion writer hailed the results as a reflection of the ability of our students to maintain the high academic standards for which Guyana is known. Another felt disheartened "despite some improvements" by data that pointed to Guyana lagging "significantly" behind Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Take your pick - either the expressed apprehension sought to put the results in a Caribbean perspective, or it didn't believe the Government was deserving of any kudos for the students' performance.

With the brilliant exception of a few instances, the impulse to oppose or to decry something emanating from the Government can have very daunting implications.

In the case of education, reservations about classroom performance can be interpreted to imply that our students aren't doing that well, that our teachers are not doing a good or good enough job, and that the Ministry of Education is not effectively facilitating the process of teaching and learning.

Not that this is unfamiliar territory. It is not unusual for the very people who clamor for teacher strikes to demonstrate their deserving of higher incomes and better working conditions, to balk at results that affirm the competence of those very teachers.

In their interviews on GTV last week, both Daniel Ram and Gina Selina Arjoon - the Caribbean's top two CXC performers - attributed their successes in part to "excellent" tutoring by their teachers.

When he spoke with reporters last month, Education Minister Jeffrey was prudent to temper his elation - a greater spread of students obtaining five or more Grade Ones - with cautious self-examination - the fact that his ministry had to take remedial action to reverse "continuing poor performances" in English and Mathematics.

Since assuming office in 1992, the Government has been increasing education spending each year, and devolving part of the responsibility for education delivery to private organizations, in support of education and training for those in work, and for those seeking work.

In very broad terms, the $7.3 billion Basic Education Access and Management Systems (BEAMS) programme aims to develop a well-educated student population and a well-educated, skilled and adaptable workforce that meets employers' needs.

BEAMS isn't the only programme underway to improve quality education delivery. Yet it forms one of the principal priorities of the Government because it also aims to reduce poverty, enhance the status of women, and achieve stable and sustainable economic growth through education.

The Government, of course, is facilitating the process. The rest is dependent on administrators implementing policy guidelines, competent teachers imparting knowledge, and willing students absorbing, retaining and demonstrating, at exams and ultimately in the world of work, what they would have acquired in the classroom.

We sense that the task ahead isn't one for the Ministry of Education and the teaching profession only.

Parents are an essential part of the process. But so also are the media and the rest of society.

The challenge is to substitute providing impartial information, guidance and help to enable people to enter appropriate education, training or employment for the impulse to oppose, discourage and cause disillusionment.

Together, we must see our task as helping to promote equality of opportunity and raise aspirations. Our task must be to encourage our young people across the education spectrum to remain in learning, whether in further education, full-time training or jobs.