Education Minister in `top of the chart’ pitch By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
January 27, 2007

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EDUCATION Minister Shaik Baksh has underscored the need for a partnership involving all stakeholders to help promote an education renaissance that will see Guyana move to the “top of the chart” in the Caribbean.

He made the pitch yesterday during an interactive session with school administrators of the Georgetown Education District, the largest of the education districts, at Queen’s College in the city.

He said this was the first in a series of such sessions to be conducted in all education districts of the country as part of the move to outline the ministry’s education policies and objectives and get feedback from school administrators on irritants in the system, as well as recommendations from them.

Mr. Baksh stressed that the “quality imperative” is the ultimate objective of the education system as it is on this basis that its effectiveness will be evaluated.

However, teachers contended that to have “quality education” there must be “quality teachers” who are in critical shortage at some schools.

The minister concurred with the teachers on this score and said the ministry has recognised the problem.

It, he said, is moving in the direction of rationalising the placement of teachers to ensure there is an equitable distribution of qualified and experienced tutors, adding that some schools have been found to be overstaffed.

Baksh voiced grave concerns about the decline in examination results last year at the secondary school level, and stressed the need to move rapidly to reverse this situation.

He reported that of the 138 secondary schools, only 34 showed a positive growth rate which is totally unsatisfactory.

Dropouts are another major concern at the secondary level, he said, noting that only 48% of students completed their secondary education, and in this regard he sees the need for improving the child-friendliness of the school environment.

However, some teachers contended that broken homes are a main contributory factor with many children having to seek jobs at an early age to augment family income.

In this regard, Minister within the Ministry of Education, Dr. Desrey Fox informed the teachers that the ministry has recruited and trained several Schools Welfare Officers to deal with such problems, but conceded that there are not enough of them.

Baksh also announced that there is need for a moving away from a bureaucratic “policing system” which currently exists in the form of the Schools Inspectorate Division.

As a result, he said, the division will be revamped to offer leadership, guidance and counselling and training, among other areas.

With respect to longer term measures to improve the delivery and quality of education, a new strategic plan with a new strategic vision is being developed while the current five-year plan is being evaluated and this is expected to be completed by August, the minister said.

He acknowledged that teachers face many constraints but urged that that should not be an end in itself and exhorted them to rise above the fray and look for opportunities to help resolve problems.

He stressed that there is need to find ways of imbuing greater patriotism and commitment to the job, lamenting that too many persons only use teaching as a stepping stone instead of using it to give back to the system from which they benefited.

The minister lashed out at the high level of absenteeism on the part of some teachers and the large amount of time-offs to attend classes at the University of Guyana, particularly unauthorised ones, resulting in students not receiving the adequate number of hours of tuition.

In relation to the latter, Baksh said negotiations would have to be made with the UG administration to schedule evening classes for teachers pursuing studies there.

He also suggested that schools’ athletic sports competitions and similar activities could be held during the August vacation to avoid disruptions of classes and further shortening of tuition hours.

The objective of primary education is to produce functionally literate and numerate students, Baksh observed, but expressed concerns that many children leave primary school as functional illiterates.

He suggested reintroducing remedial classes for low achieving students during the August vacation and said he would undertake to explore the possibility of providing incentives for teachers who conduct such classes.

He commended a group of teachers who have volunteered in the Agricola/Eccles area on the East Bank Demerara to hold remedial classes free of charge and urged others to follow suit.