A new horizon for education in Guyana
January 11, 2004
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THE Ministry of Education is in the process of implementing the Basic Education Access Management and Support Programme (BEAMS). This is one of the projects of the Ministry, which is being put into operation to enhance the education system in Guyana. This project was visualised as a massive, comprehensive revitalisation of our country’s educational system, which would lead inevitably to universal secondary education. BEAMS’ expansive purview extends from school infrastructure through curriculum, technology, teacher preparation, administrative reform and community and parent involvement.
The programme was initiated after 2001, when the Ministry engaged consultant John Stannard of the United Kingdom to obtain a solution to the inquiry – ‘Why, when Guyana’s educational system was once the envy of the Caribbean are so few of our students sitting for and passing the CXC examination?’ This resulted in his thorough, 39 page report, where Stannard’s analysis distilled into one disturbing salient conclusion: Our children are unsuccessful because they are not learning to read, write and compute proficiently in the very earliest years. Inevitably, this failure follows our students through their entire school career and inevitably results in an inability to complete a secondary education.
Consequently, when they delved deeply into the causes of academic failure in Guyana, it became apparent to the Ministry of Education officials that attempting to fix the damages in the education system in stages would not address the breath and depth of the problems. Rather, it would impede on the reforms that is required in the initial years of learning that would then lead to Universal Secondary Education, which is another stage in educational reforms in Guyana.
The conclusion was drawn that only through comprehensive reform, at the all three levels of schooling (nursery, primary and secondary), would this country be able to reclaim its premier academic excellence in the Caribbean.
BEAMS Literacy Initiative
Literacy is the keystone of reforms to the primary education system in Guyana. The Ministry of Education has undertaken this action through BEAMS programme to have it introduced in schools in Guyana as early as September 2004.
This initiative was taken because officials from the Ministry recognised the need for our children to have the ability to intellectually process the printed word, in order for them to move on to any type of academic discipline. Literacy is seen as the gateway through which all children must pass to gain the academic success that leads to a full, productive adulthood.
Hence, the taskforce of BEAMS, which has undertaken to revise the literacy instruction in schools throughout Guyana, has laid their foundation on the results of very reliable scientific data. In a historically unprecedented research project, scientists from a broad range of disciplines conducted a meta-analysis, of more than 115 000 research projects published from before the 1960s to the present day. The conclusions drawn from this research have combined into the clearest guide to effective literacy instruction that has ever been available to educators.
The results of the research specify that children have a high probability of learning to read successfully when their curriculum and instruction include six critical elements. These are – ‘Phonemic awareness’, which is the ability to hear and manipulate the building blocks (the individual sounds in spoken language known as ‘phones”) of human speech. Phonic – this is the ability to decode printed words based on the sounds of letters. Vocabulary – which, by the end of secondary school must include twelve to eighteen thousand words which students can understand, use and read. Fluency – this is the ability to read text smoothly, rapidly and automatically so that the reader’s attention can focus on the meaning of what is being read. Comprehension –which is the purpose of reading, is being taught as a constellation of systematical strategies and direct or explicit instruction, which defined by its own terms, leaves no question as to whether or not a student has mastered the skill before moving on to the next.
There were three other findings, which are extremely crucial to help with the improvement of literacy in Guyana. The first is instruction based on the six elements and is particularly effective for children who are at risk of having difficulty in learning to read. The second is that there is direct and reciprocal relationship between reading instruction based on the six critical elements with writing and spelling. The findings proved that instructions to children are most effective when they are guided by focused assessment.
These six fundamentals are being developed through the BEAMS programme in the new learning standards, indicators, materials and instructional guides for teaching literacy to children. They paint a picture of literacy instruction in broad strokes. Clearly and simply stated, when these elements are utilised for teaching, they provided both the teachers and parents with a pattern against which they may compare the instruction. The Ministry would provide these instructions in the classroom on a daily basis, through BEAMS programme.
BEAMS instructional reforms would be implemented in a systemic manner so that proper analysis and evaluation can be completed before they are operational in schools throughout Guyana. Approximately 20 per cent of the schools in Georgetown and Region Two would be among the first set of schools for piloting.
Preparations are ongoing for teachers, support personnel andadministration to be trained in the reforms beginning in June of 2004. Within the following four years, the reforms will be implemented throughout Guyana. With an initial focus of this programme on the early years of learning, there is a great deal of confidence that Guyana’s children will learn to read so they may read to learn, culminating in successful academic careers and self actualised adulthood for all. (Ministry of Education BEAMS Programme)