July 2, 2004
The one thing that emerged from our interviews with the top twenty SSEE students this year, was that they were readers. One of the country's best known Common Entrance teachers, Mr Wilfred Success, of West Ruimveldt Primary School, whose pupils did exceptionally well this time around also told Stabroek News that the members of his class were avid readers.
The connection between reading and educational success is not a concept which has to be belaboured in most professional households; parents who themselves have some kind of scholastic qualification understand very well what is required in order to achieve at that level. Independently of what a school does or does not do, therefore, they ensure that there are books in the home, and that their children are encouraged to read. Very likely at the pre-school age, they would have stimulated their child's interest in books by reading them stories, thereby laying the groundwork for a later reading habit.
Studies comparing which schools perform better in England, have found a correlation between the background of the majority of the pupils, and levels of educational attainment. Where a large proportion of the children in a given school come from middle-class homes, therefore, the results will be better; where the reverse is the case, the results will be poorer. It is more than a matter of simply money; it is also an issue of parental understanding and knowledge - and, it must be added, parental support and involvement in the educational process.
In this country, of course, the society has become corrupted by the 'get rich quick' syndrome, so there is no longer the emphasis on educational achievement that there used to be. In the poorer sectors of the coastland, there is less incentive nowadays for a child to apply him or herself in years of hard work for what s/he might perceive as an uncertain outcome. Every day they will see the drug baronets cruise by in their 'rides,' the conspicuous reward for illegal endeavour and nil education. It should be said that even in the case of some better-off homes, there is a similar problem motivating youngsters in the classroom.
All of this is not to say that there are not thousands of poor parents in this land who desperately want their children to do well at school. They operate, however, at an enormous disadvantage in achieving that outcome. Part of it relates to a lack of money to buy books for their children to read, and books are horrendously expensive items in modern-day Guyana. While there is the public library, of course, it has suffered for a very long time from insufficient funding for book purchases, and its capacity to support the school system as a consequence is not as great as it could be. In addition, its staff is not well remunerated, making it more difficult to attract cataloguers and qualified librarians.
However, as indicated above, one of the biggest problems is that uneducated parents, however ambitious they may be for their children, often do not know what is required in order to help them at school. They will make enormous sacrifices in order to see that they get the requisite textbooks, and having done that, they expect the school to do the rest. The problem is that the schools are not performing at the level that they once did; apart from anything else, there is a serious dearth of well-educated and qualified teachers in the system to guide students from deprived backgrounds to do the reading which would allow them to overcome their disadvantages. An inadequate school environment can be compensated for by an educated home background, but children brought up in poverty-stricken circumstances will have no compensations.
In the new assessment system currently being introduced in the primary schools, the Ministry is placing emphasis on reading. This is definitely a plus - although the new arrangements can be criticised on other grounds. However, one cannot help but feel that there needs as well to be a sustained outreach campaign to educate the many parents who never themselves enjoyed the benefit of a sound education, about the importance of reading for their children's future. Secondly, following the example of Cuba, perhaps, there also needs to be a project to make a wide variety of cheap books available to the young - possibly, but not necessarily, through the school system. The reading done by a pupil outside a classroom context, can be as important to a child's future as anything learnt in school.