September, in addition to being designated “Amerindian Heritage Month”, is also “Education Month”. This is not entirely coincidental, since this month marks the beginning of a new school year for all our educational institutions.
Today, “Education Month” activities kick off under the theme, “Child-Friendly Homes: Child-Friendly Classrooms-Quality Education”. It would appear that the goal of this year’s efforts would be to impress upon our children that learning does not have to be equated with torture – and that it does not have to be imparted only in the classroom. The home is as powerful a site of education, if not actually a superior one, to schools.
Children and schools are going to be given recognition for good attendance records: some 1,000 students from schools across the country, with attendance rates of at least 98 per cent in the last academic year, will be presented with certificates.
Additionally, two primary and secondary schools accumulating the highest attendance rates in each category will be given special prizes at a ceremony billed for the National Gymnasium on September 15th.
A week later, on September 23, a national parents’ symposium “covering a wide area of interests” will be convened at the Pegasus Hotel – still the premier hotel in Guyana.
There is nothing we can find objectionable – and in fact, there is much that is commendable – in the Ministry of Education’s continuing efforts to involve parents in the delivery of education to their children.
There is a surfeit of studies, not to mention anecdotal evidence in Guyana, that the dominance of children from middle class homes topping the SSEE, CSEC and CAPE Exams, are highly correlated with the involvement of parents in their study environment.
We are not sure what exactly the Ministry will pull out of its methodological repertoire to inspire non-middle class parents to become more involved at its symposium. But what we know for sure is that based on our own history, those parents were as involved as any when they saw that education was a sure-fire way of their children escaping from the bottom of the social ladder.
The bottom line for making someone want to pursue a particular path is to convince that person that such a path will deliver what they already desire in their heart. Every man, woman and child in Guyana desires to live a better, more well endowed life.
To our credit, this used to mean better jobs. Our historical drive of the downtrodden towards education was stifled when the connection between education and better jobs was snapped during the economic meltdown in the 70‘s and 80’s. Why slog away for CSEC’s when selling “sweeties” could pull in more money? The efficacy of “party cards” to secure employment ahead of qualifications did not help either.
There is a widespread perception that the latter deformation is still in place: that only the name of the party and the identity of their supporters have changed. Whether there is more reality to the perception or not, if the Ministry is serious about a wide swathe of our youths – especially young men – that are predisposed not only to underperform, but to actually drop out of the educational system, then it must show by hard evidence that education will guarantee jobs, for everyone.
Let’s take Buxton, for instance. Can the Minister demonstrate that youths from that village who performed credibly at the secondary and tertiary levels were able to secure jobs at the same rates as the national average?
But that test highlights the chicken-and-egg dilemma that confronts the Ministry in its well-intentioned plans to improve school attendance: is the national average of matching jobs to graduates anything to shout about? Do we have to create the jobs first and then the graduates to fill them, as the president has suggested?
The experience of those economies that have pulled themselves out of poverty suggests that there has to be a sensible compromise: youths can be steered into training that will prepare them for jobs expected in the government’s strategic plan.