Despite limitations, great strides made in Education - Dr. Henry Jeffrey
Guyana Chronicle
October 26, 2003

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(GINA) - INFRASTRUCTURE and human development improvements have permeated the education sector over the last 11 years under the PPP/C Administration, within the resources available to the entire social sector.

This is the conviction of Minister of Education, Dr. Henry Jeffery, who spoke about the education sector with GTV's Martin Goolsarran during a special televised programme of Close Up.

The Minister pointed out that the most important issue in any sector, including the education sector, is "what is put into that sector."

Dr. Jeffery said when the PPP/C took office in 1992, the entire social sector received about eight per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). "Today, the education sector alone receives about eight per cent of the GDP, amounting to 18 per cent of the national budget," said the Education Minister.

Making a comparative analysis among CARICOM States, Dr. Jeffery pointed out that Trinidad spends five per cent of its GDP in the education sector, with each child apportioned US$1000.00 per annum, while Guyana spends US$175.00.

However, Dr. Jeffery said Guyana is doing more than most of these countries, in line with its GDP, and he deemed Government's input in the education sector as a "national effort in budgetary allocation."

While emphasising that Government has expended wisely in the education sector, the top Education official pointed out that many schools have been repaired to create "a decent physical environment that is important to the education sector."

This is not withstanding the fact that others are yet to receive attention.

In terms of allocations towards teacher training, the Education Minister said his sector has been spending increasing sums in this area, and has recently introduced teacher- training via distance education.

Apart from infrastructure development, the education sector has been closely examining remuneration for teachers, which amounts to over 70 per cent of the education budget, the Education Minister said.

Teacher Migration
Migration of trained teachers continues to affect the quality and delivery of education across Guyana. On this issue, the Education Minister conceded that the education sector has its share of problems, felt through the annual departure of an average 250 teachers.

While this is a burning concern, Dr. Jeffrey noted that the sector is not in a position to readily extend its resources that will result in persons remaining in the profession at home, due to the disparity between local and overseas wage packages.

The Minister said Government recognises that the problem has to be tackled differently, and has moved to introduce the concepts of distance aid and cluster training, with a view to improving the quality of skills for those in the profession.

He surmised that other skilled professionals including nurses and engineers have also been leaving Guyana for better overseas offers, and this is a challenge for Guyana.

In light of the migration of skilled professionals, who blend into other countries, having benefited from training in Guyana, Dr. Jeffery said that the issue will come up for discussion at an upcoming Commonwealth meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland.

That forum will specifically address ways in which Guyana could benefit through the migration of skilled teachers to the United Kingdom.

"We are arguing that it's definitely a problem that must be solved," Dr. Jeffery said.

Improving Hinterland Education
Guyana is the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to be awarded the Fast Track Initiative being coordinated by the World Bank, aimed at assisting third world countries considered to have the right policies and proven national effort.

Guyana's 2002-2007 Strategic Plan is considerably sound and has been seen as the basis for the country's plan for improving education at all levels.

To reach the goals set out in the Plan, the Education Minister said US$50M has been set aside to provide quality primary education throughout the country. In addition, the Government of the Netherlands has given 2M Euros equivalent to $2.2M US to Guyana's education sector. A significant amount of this sum will go towards the purchase of books for the hinterland primary education.

Further, the funds will be channelled towards improved remuneration of hinterland teachers and a community-based school-feeding programme.

"We have benefited from the requirement that by 2015 all the countries of the world should reach a given level in terms of the provision of basic primary education," said the Education Minister.

Curriculum Development
In keeping with global advances, Information Technology has been widely introduced in many school systems throughout the world, and Guyana has not been left behind.

According to the Minister, his ministry has been making every effort to respond to the advances through training in information technology.

However, literacy continues to pose much concern to the education ministry, which is seeking to improve literacy and basic literary skills at the lowest levels in schools.

Just recently, UNESCO signalled its interest in collaborating with the Education Ministry to launch an AIDS awareness programme among young people.

Minister Jeffery said this will be a pilot project that will receive funding to the tune of $20M, which the Japanese Government has signalled its willingness to offset.

Strong emphasis will be placed on not merely translating information, but also literacy, in order to translate the knowledge into action...

Improving Technical/Vocational training & facilities
Towards preparing school leavers for the world of work in skilled areas, a basic competency certificate scheme will to be introduced in January 2004, allowing students from first to fourth forms to acquire basic competency in a specific area.

The Education Minister said this programme has become necessary in order to meet the demands of the modern world.

He said given the available resources, in the first instance, everyone may not be in position to be trained, but Government is in discussion with the Canadian Development Bank (CDB) which has pledged $8M towards upgrading the practical systems in secondary schools and the introduction of vocational training.

"It is true that the technical side of our education system has not had a major financial input since around 1986 and this is perhaps the first of such inputs in keeping with resource allocation," said Dr. Jeffery.

On the issue of private schools, the Education Minister said, "We support their introduction, once it is done in a proper and sensible way."

However, this does not reduce the need for the Ministry's inspectorate to look closer to ensure that standards set out at the time of registration are maintained.

The top private schools have better management since this may be the central issue. Despite this however, he boasted that Guyana has performed its best in 20 years in the area of CXC Maths.

The Minister concluded that more could be done within the education sector at both the central and school levels.