School heads worried about extra lessons burn-out
-call for policy action By Heppilena Ferguson
Stabroek News
January 27, 2007

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Head teachers believe that far too many children are pressured into extra lessons at an early age causing "burn-out" and influencing the high incidence of school dropouts; they want the Education Ministry to take policy action in this respect.

This was a sore point raised yesterday when Minister of Education Shaik Baksh met Nursery, Primary and Secondary school head and deputy head teachers as part of a consultative effort aimed at improving the local education system.

The minister said similar sessions will be held in education districts countrywide and are intended to promote what he terms an "education renaissance in Guyana".

Following his delivery of a list of priorities of his ministry, Queen's College Deputy Headmistress Gem Rohlehr was among the first teachers to make their voices heard with much support from her colleagues.

She said some students were being made to undergo too many lessons outside their general school work and sometimes for very long hours and at too early an age. So by the time they are at Level Seven, for instance, she said, they suffer from burn-out. She said she believed this was contributing to the increase in dropouts.
Shaik Baksh

Rohlehr said too, to which her colleagues agreed, that the oneness which was once shared by the society the media and the school was no longer existent. "Now we have this disparity and many negative words come to the education system and the school now is forced to compete instead of the working together. The society is pulling itself away from the school," she contended and urged that the ministry make policies to deal with this.

Rohlehr pointed to the secondary school children who line many central city streets at the end of the school term and engage in activities in their school uniform, including getting into fights and drinking alcohol under the guise that they are waiting for transportation to go home. And she recommended that the ministry support the implementation of the school bus system or put other measures in place to address this situation.

Additionally she requested quick action by the ministry in dealing with what she termed a "dying of Physics" in particular. She said students, once given the choice, were opting for the other sciences instead of Physics, and cited the importance of the ministry intervening in this regard. "More than anything, I think we need to ensure that we keep our scientists in this country, we can't lose them and something must be done to influence them to stay," she said.

Chairman of the board of the South Ruimveldt Secondary School Robert Williams also proposed that the ministry establish a link between the administration of city schools and the Georgetown municipality, similar to what obtains in other education districts where there are close links to the Regional Democratic Council.

He said the physical environment of schools had a lot to do with encouraging students to remain in school and this would mean great collaboration between the schools and the municipality.

"In many schools the space is there to encourage outdoor activities but it's just not conducive and if we work together we could make this better," Williams said.

He said he did not believe the administrations of many schools were benefiting from enough information to help with the management of their schools.

Another sore issue raised by school heads was the fact that they were being forced to produce excellent results, with, in some cases, almost a school filled with improperly trained teachers.

This issue was raised by Acting Headmistress of North Ruimveldt Multilateral School, Dianne Peters.

With supportive applause from fellow colleagues, Peters pointedly said that much more needed to be done at the level of the ministry with regard to the provision of quality teachers.

"If the ministry intends to improve the quality of education provided to the nation's children, it must first of all address the problem of the quality of teachers," she asserted.

Relating her own experiences, Peters said there are instances where there are specialized areas for children to be taught in but the specialized persons are not there. "How could we deliver the quality of teaching required when three quarters of our staff are unqualified or temporary unqualified teachers?" she queried.

Additionally, the head requested that the ministry make its position clear regarding the sore issue of corporal punishment in schools.

They argued that the debate on the issue has been long and still borders on uncertainty and they want to be told clearly what was expected of them.

In response, Minister Baksh said the rules governing that type of punishment in schools remained the same since no change was made. He said the ministry was leaving the matter up to the Education Task Force, which had been mandated to complete its work in this regard by August this year.

"Only after then will we take formal action. So we are just going to let them do their work. But in the meanwhile a survey is being done to see where breaches in the current system is taking place," he said.

Sport and recreation

A proposal from Baksh to have school sports conducted during the August holidays did not go down well with school administrations. The minister's comment came against the background that these activities were taking away teaching hours from children, though he said that the normal physical education activities should remain in the school's curriculum.

Amid murmurs from the audience, the heads said school sports and related activities should remain part of the curriculum.

A number of other issues affecting individual schools were raised with the education officials at the meeting who included Acting Chief Education Officer Genevieve Whyte-Nedd, Minister within the Ministry of Education Dr Desrey Fox and Permanent Secretary Pulandar Kandhi.