The Guyana Scholarship
Kaieteur News
May 10, 2007

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It is not our belief that there are any Guyanese who do not want our country to develop and take its rightful spot as one of the better places in the world to live.

We witness this sentiment every day from the average man in the street (in the letter pages of newspapers and call-in programs on TV) and the leaders of society – politicians, business magnates, trade-union officials, professionals etc – whenever they are given an opportunity to make their views known.

The problem arises in the how and the who. But this is not unusual and in fact is the norm in the developed societies we seek to emulate. There will always be differences in opinion wherever mankind gathers, whether temporarily or permanently, to accomplish any task. The solution is to find common ground on some issue and to begin from there. Where can we find some common ground in Guyana today that may be of some relevance to our thrust for development?

We suspect that there is in an ever-growing belief in the need to strive for excellence among all sections of our society. It was not too long ago that this was once an integral facet of the Guyanese national character. We were admired across the region and further afield for our accomplishments in so many fields of endeavours. Then came our infatuation and flirtation with several species of Marxism, and we got sidetracked. Some of our leaders had the notion that our society had to be “levelled” of all practices that smelt of “hierarchy”. This translated into a variety of policies, ranging from dragging senior civil servants off to Hope Estate for some presumably salutary manual labour to gradually phasing out the famed Guyana Scholarship.

While it is not our intention to argue for or against the inevitability of hierarchies in complex societies, we do believe that if our society is to achieve its potential, we have to find ways of encouraging each citizen to externalise the very best that lies within them. One tried and true method is to reward excellence within a distributive principle based on merit. He, who does best, gets best.

Education is the bedrock on which all modern successful poor countries have pulled themselves out of poverty. While we have made great strides in improving our educational system since 1992, most of the gains have been in the area of physical infrastructure and curriculum development. We have yet to get our children – especially teenagers - excited about the whole point of “education” itself, as was the case up to the early seventies.

Part of the reason for that was the competitive spirit engendered by the various “scholarships” to higher learning earned at the fourth standard (Common Entrance), fifth form (entrance to senior secondary schools) and upper sixth form (the Guyana Scholarship). We have retained (in diluted form) the former two, but unfortunately in our misguided socialist fervour, we have completely abandoned the last – which has been one of our greatest follies.

The Guyana Scholarship served as motivation for some of the finest minds this country has produced for a century. It is not enough to ask what this select group of winners has achieved – and this has not been insignificant – but rather, ask what the group as a whole that competed for the prize has achieved and one would be awestruck. There is not an endeavour or undertaking in our land that has not been enriched by a Guyana Scholar aspirant.

The Guyana Scholarship was the big enchilada. It earned one the right for an all-expense sojourn at any of the top universities in the United Kingdom – frequently Oxford or Cambridge . And it was not just the superior teaching and facilities but the quality of the student body that one mixed with. These were the individuals who would go on to become captains of industries and other leadership positions across the world. What a value would be even one scholar who returned to Guyana .

We should negotiate with the top universities in the US and the UK for scholarships and starting immediately announce at least five annual Guyana Scolarships to the best performers at the “A” Levels/CAPE. The old requirement that they should return to serve Guyana for five years can be one of the stipulations.