BEAMS -- Reforming the education system A GINA Feature
Guyana Chronicle
August 24, 2004

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THE Government has been investing significantly over the years in the education sector. Emphasis has been placed on capacity building, training, infrastructural development and curriculum development, among other areas.

A key concern to the Ministry of Education is a comfortable environment that is conducive to teaching and learning.

The Basic Education Access Management Support (BEAMS) Programme was created to enhance and reform the education sector.

BEAMS is a US$55M programme, most of which is funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The programme is intended to last for five years and will focus on three areas, which are: improved school performance, organisational and human resource capacity development and civil works.

It will be executed in two phases. Phase One, in keeping with the Ministry of Education’s Sector Development Plan and the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), will seek to lay the foundation in the equitable delivery of educational services. This will include efforts to ensure students at the primary level master numeracy and literacy skills.

According to the director of the programme, Mr R. B Persaud, US$33M is earmarked for this phase. For the project to continue into Phase Two, there are set criteria that must be met.

Recently, a two-week training of teachers in the numeracy and literacy programmes, which are expected to come on stream shortly, was held at the Cyril Potter College of Education, Turkeyen.

The numeracy programme is based on teaching mathematics through Interactive Radio Instructions (IRI), while the literacy programme aims at equipping students with essential reading skills.

The Interactive Radio Instructions system emphasises active learning and meaningful interaction through the radio, the teacher and the listening students. The training programme targeted teachers from across the country. They are expected to teach other teachers to implement IRI. The IRI training was facilitated by Ms Naomi Carter, an international IRI Specialist.

According to Dr Max Fernandes, a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist attached to BEAMS, it is a programme that has been tried in a number of countries with a lot of successes before.

Lessons will be aired on NCN radio for one hour daily. Schools that do not have access to the radio will be provided with Compaq Discs (CDs) and CD players. There will be special programmes targeting low-performers especially from poor communities.

BEAMS intends to ensure, through Component One of the programme which focuses on improved school performance, that all students achieve essential reading skills at Grade Four and demonstrate age-appropriate mathematics skills by Grade Three.

A brochure on the programmes states, “The time has come for both children and parents to learn mathematics, the fun and easy way.”

This project will be implemented in primary schools nationwide to provide the core instruction in numeracy.

The curriculum is currently being developed, along with essential materials and support training, to cover the basic numeracy skills necessary for Grades One to Three.

Meanwhile, the Literacy Component will be piloted in Regions Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam) and Georgetown. The project will be tested in these two Regions before they are introduced to other schools in the country.

Persaud pointed out that the literacy aspect is not only about reading and writing, but students should also be able to improve their understanding and analysing skills and to apply these to other subject areas.

The Ministry of Education is targeting all stakeholders in education to be involved in its programmes under BEAMS, so that they might be aware of what BEAMS is about.

Meanwhile, BEAMS is expected to focus on respecting the norms of indigenous populations and poor communities.

Its emphasis on social equity is expected to benefit all sections of the school-age population especially children from low-income families who are not at present accessing the best education services, resulting in average or poor performance.

The secondary sector will benefit from infrastructural development. The project Director reported that there are two phases of civil works in the secondary sector. And in the first tranche, nine projects will be carried out. Of these, four will be new schools.

The programme also supports the retaining of trained teachers in unserved areas where there is need for them.

BEAMS intends, too, to monitor the teacher supply and demand that is key to sustaining and strengthening the education sector. It aims to identify viable compensation strategies attractive especially to trained and qualified teachers.

Meanwhile, as a means of supporting management of the education system, the Management Information Systems (MIS) forms an important component of BEAMS.

Through this programme, the Ministry will have connections with all its Regional education offices. Consultants are addressing the best means of network connection.

Already 11 Information Technology (IT) officers have been appointed to the 11 education districts in the country.

This move is part of the Ministry’s plan to modernise the education sector, and manage the education delivery process across the country.

Phase One of the Regional Local Area Network is expected to commence next month. But the entire IT programme is a four-year project.

Through the Primary Education Improvement Programme (PEIP), the Ministry of Education’s Georgetown branches have a fibre optic linkage.

The programme will allow the Ministry to access student information such as performance record and attendance as well as general school information, which could be used for comparisons and other programmes.

BEAMS evolved from the PEIP. The Programme Director feels that it will be successful as it takes into account the shortfalls of the PEIP. (Government Information Agency)