May 12, 2007
A study conducted over two years ago, which sought to measure people's integrity, had found that people were more likely to be honest if they knew they were being watched. Hidden cameras recorded scores of instances where people ignored money left carelessly lying around when they knew they were being watched, but similar numbers were just as ready to swipe it if they knew they weren't.
Simultaneously, the study was able to gauge people's reaction to their environment. The average person who entered a clean room on a given day seemed loath to litter it or leave anything out of place. People took their litter away with them as there were no bins in the room. The very next day, the room was deliberately trashed-paper was strewn around. The bin was not quite full, but there were heaps of stuff on the floor around it. The majority of people who bothered to enter the room added to the chaos. Only two, again out of scores, bothered to wade through the rubbish to use the bin.
The conclusion was therefore drawn that people's behaviour tended to mirror the environment to an extent. But who needed a study to arrive at that conclusion? The evidence is all around us right here in Guyana. It seems that only those in authority, who have the power to decide what the environment is likely to be, choose not to notice.
A recent case in point is the situation at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE). The CPCE is where this country's teachers are supposed to be gaining the practical and theoretical knowledge that would ensure they are ready to mould our children. Last November, and again this month the student-teachers protested because of poor conditions at the CPCE. Poor plumbing, a faulty electrical system, a malfunctioning sewerage system and poor maintenance of the compound were among the issues causing the malcontent among the trainee teachers.
While promises have since been made to have these issues addressed, Minister of Education Shaik Baksh had accused the student-teachers of being partly to blame for the conditions at the CPCE. Some of these students have only been at the college for less than one year. The deplorable conditions have existed there for years. There are graduates of the CPCE who entered the college and met poor conditions; grinned and bore it for four years and could hardly wait to graduate and leave it all behind them.
If the Minister of Education would like us to believe this bit of balderdash - that would-be teachers deliberately set out to destroy their learning environment - then he might as well close down the CPCE and forget about training any more teachers as clearly, these are people not worthy of training. However, before the Ministry of Education does this, it should provide a schedule of the maintenance carried out at the CPCE over the years. When last were the electricity and plumbing systems completely overhauled? How many years have passed since the building was wired? How many years since the pipes were laid? When are they due to be changed? And how about the tall grass in the compound? How often is it cut? Who cuts it? Does the CPCE employ a gardener?
The truth is, most likely, that the some of the CPCE students are exactly like the people observed in the study mentioned above. Some of them met the college in a ramshackle state, added to it and probably left it worse than it was. And who can blame them? They may be signing up for the dubious honour of being the ones to educate the present and coming generation, but they are human beings just like the rest of us.
The fact is that the problems at the CPCE are part of the wider epidemic afflicting this country, a lack of maintenance. For some unearthly reason, we seem to feel that it is okay to put down structures, build roads and bridges, declare them open with huge fanfare and then just leave them for the next 12, 15 or 20 years. Of course, it can be done; we have seen it done.
But we have also watched these ignored edifices break down and deteriorate and cost billions to replace, whereas ongoing maintenance would have preserved and even added value to the structure in some cases.
Now it seems it is the turn of the CPCE. A lack of routine maintenance has possibly led to it being unsafe and unhealthy for the trainee teachers. If that is the case then stop-gap measures won't work. The ministry must undertake a complete assessment of the college, do whatever is necessary to make it student-friendly again and then put systems in place to ensure that what is undertaken now is cared for. Posterity will expect no less.