Education - the human development connection to economic growth
Guyana Chronicle
April 7, 2004

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THE disclosure by the Ministry of Education on March 24 (2004) that it is introducing life skills education in the teaching curriculum from September has not only allayed concerns by some that the ministry has been insensitive to public appeals for more vocation training and the teaching of character development in schools. It also underscores the value of academic and vocational education as the human development connection to economic growth and national advancement.

The 2004 national budget makes the connection clear. Envisaging that social sector spending translates into overall improvements in the quality of life of Guyanese, the Government has allocated $14.5 billion or 9.4% of GDP to education. That is, $2.3 billion more than was voted for the education sector last year, which saw expenditures on education accounting for $12.1 billion or 8.4 percent of GDP.

As former permanent secretary to the Ministry of Education Hydar Ally notes in a viewpoint titled, "People, the ultimate beneficiaries of the 2004 budget" (see yesterday's Chronicle), few other countries in the Caribbean, if any, spend as much on education as a percentage of their GDP as Guyana.

That's a tribune for the Government, considering the state of the nation's economy, which contracted by 0.6 percent last year, and the possibility that foreign aid flows to Guyana will decline on account of it assuming middle-income developing country status.

We'll still be receiving international community funding for what constitutes quality education. The Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank have pledged funding for the Basic Education Access and Management Systems (BEAMS) and education infrastructure programmes. And more are likely from other sources.

But even if any of that were not forthcoming, the fact that we're racing against time to reverse society's relative failure to provide adequate support and direction to our young, underlines the wisdom of increasing education spending and emphasizing life skills education this year.

As we pointed out only last week, a curriculum on character development should help students learn to be caring, principled, and responsible in and outside of the classroom, as well as give them frequent opportunities to act on these values.

Even for critics who contend that taxpayers aren't getting value for their money, a breakdown of what public spending on education is going to accomplish is impressive. School maintenance, not before focused on so significantly, will see spending kin Georgetown alone increasing from $55 million last year to $231 million this year. Grants to the University of Guyana's Turkeyen Campus will rise from $294 million in 2003 to $373 million in 2004, and to the Berbice Campus at Tain from $74 million to $103 million. Tain is also to have a computer center with a capital investment of about $73 million.

More than a billion dollars will be spent on the acquisition of textbooks and schools will be provided with resource libraries. So, too, will teaching training and other classroom learning programmes.

The results of all this may not necessarily be measurable in the short term. For graduating students may very go job hunting and not succeed. But daunting circumstances notwithstanding, growing investment in quality education delivery is bound to result in the grooming of a citizenry destined to move Guyana into the upper crust of development.