Conference opens to upgrade access to secondary education by Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
October 2, 2003

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Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Dale Bisnauth, says education does not only have a role in economic development but also contributes to the social and political process as well.

Dr. Bisnauth, a former education minister, made these remarks yesterday while opening a two-day conference on access to Universal Secondary Education (USE) organized by the Guyana Education Access Programme (GEAP) in conjunction with the Ministry of Education at Le Meridien, Pegasus.

He emphasized that education is the "decisive agent" in bringing about the desired changes and development in society and as such it has a vital role to play in a modern society, without which there is no likelihood of any development and improvements in society. The absence of education is likely to give rise to crimes and anti-social behaviour, he added.

But, he observed, the formulation of appropriate educational policies and programmes is not a simplistic process. He said it takes time and dedication to achieve success in this respect. "Education is not and has not been a hot house plant that fructifies in a short time," he declared. It takes time and the dedication of all stakeholders to get "the mix right" because the education process deals with "human beings at a difficult and challenging age."

Referring to the issue of expenditure of education, Dr. Bisnauth offered that too frequent references are made to it and talk about value for money. He felt that such expenditure is reflective of the importance being placed on education in a given society. He further observed that the prestige and income of educators must reflect the importance of education to society.

Touching on the relevance of education to the preservation of democracy, Dr. Bisnauth asserted that education not only makes democracy it also makes it essential.
"Education makes democracy possible and along with economic development, makes it inevitable," the minister declared.

The purpose of education, he asserted is prepare children for the "enlargement and enjoyment" of life and exhorted the participants at the conference that their task is to make that larger life available for all children.

Chief Planning Officer in the Ministry of Education, Mrs. Evelyn Hamilton, underscored the importance and relevance of universal access to education, stating that in the context of today's knowledge and skills-based economy secondary education is essential in enabling and facilitating students to adapt to technological changes and developments and competition in world trade.

Mrs. Hamilton noted that the aim of USE is to provide equity in the accessing of high quality secondary education for all primary school leavers.

She recalled that since 1990 it was recognized that the Community High School- School Proficiency Examination did not gain the acceptance of the society as such its programme was reorganized.

Project Director Of GEAP, Steve Bradley disclosed that GEAP over the past five years has been involved in strengthening the education sector here by helping to improve infrastructure, curriculum development, teacher training and community alliances among others. He however, acknowledged the constraints being faced in the effort to expand and improve quality in the education sector here not only but the national economy as a whole.

The Project Director underscored the need to bring all the disparate elements, include vision, policies, resources and implementation and delivery in the education sector into a cohesive framework, observing that sometimes contradictions arise between policymakers and implementers. With respect to the latter he exhorted that there is need for harmony between the two groups.

Special Adviser to the Minister of Education, Hector Patterson, said the purpose of the conference is to have an in depth look at the issue of USE and to help plan for the future, recalling that during last year three key consultancy reports were commissioned that deal with broad policy areas on the formulation of an appropriate umbrella pertaining to the development of USE.

USE is a major objective in the Ministry of Education's five-year strategic plan for 2003-2007.

Over the past five years substantial infrastructure programmes, curriculum reform, training and development activities towards Use have taken place. At the end of this year two major donor-funded secondary support projects, the secondary Schools reform Programme (SSRP) and GEAP will conclude.

The two-day USE has brought together about 100 delegates involved in secondary education from within and without the Ministry of Education to reflect on the progress towards USE and the ay forward within the framework of the Strategic Plan.