When people have to eat their words
It has been a long time since I experienced the euphoria of doing well at what is now the Grade Six Examinations. Way back in my time it was the Common Entrance and just as is the case today, the schools that had good performing students were exceedingly proud.
I lived in West Demerara and there were a few of us who qualified for Queen’s College that year. Many of us had never heard of the primary schools in the city and we certainly were not aware of the competition. Not surprisingly, those who did well at the Common Entrance came from all over the country. It was not like today when the overwhelming majority came out of city schools.
The reason was simple. Each school had great teachers, people who loved the job, who were good at what they did. and who took time to visit the parents of those children who had potential but who opted to underperform.
I know that there are still good teachers around, but whether they teach the children to think or simply to learn by rote is another matter. In my day, whenever the teacher imparted knowledge, it was rounded. As they say today, we were thought to think outside the box. We were encouraged to play and by playing we were able to make a correlation between what we learnt in school and what happened in the outside world.
Fast forward to 1995. By then I was a grown man and among other things, working in the television industry. Just as is the case this year, a large number of students from a single school placed in the top ten. Credit went to a young teacher named Wilfred Success. There were strident cries of cheat. I invited Mr. Success and his students to the studios of VCT 28 and interviewed them.
To a man, the students described the method of teaching and learning. Then I began to read about the reaction of the teachers in the most established schools. There were those who were even more critical because Mr. Success was not a sophisticated man; he was not born with a gold or silver spoon; he did not grace the cocktail circuit and he surely did not hobnob with those in the so-called upper echelons of the society.
I took on the Ministry of Education, at the time headed by Rev Dr. Dale Bisnauth. I read the likes of Ian McDonald and I awaited the results of the investigation launched by the Education Ministry. This society was not prepared that a nonentity with a gift for teaching children from the poorer section of the tracks could elevate them to challenge those who slept among silken sheets and used golden spoons. The school was West Ruimveldt Primary.
It is true that one swallow does not make a summer. The next year Wilfred Success produced top ten students again, but not in the numbers of the previous year. I cannot remember the society who accused Wilfred Success offering him an apology. What I do remember was the Education Ministry making efforts to remove him to the other side of the tracks to teach those from the well-to-do society. Success fought every effort to transfer him.
A few years later he left and started his own school. I don’t believe that he went to the Cyril Potter College of Education, but he surely knew more than some of them who were trained.
I remember talking with him a few years ago. The place was flooded and I braved the water to meet with him in a Ruimveldt building. By then, people from as far as Parika on West Demerara and Mahaica on East Demerara and Soesdyke on East Bank Demerara, wanted their children under Success’s eyes. In fact, everyone did.
We spoke about making children think and about teaching methods. For the records, I too, was a teacher and a pretty good one at that. Like Success, I got good results with the children from the other side of the tracks, but at the GCE level. I still swell with pride when I see some of my products.
This year Wilfred Success’s students swelled the ranks, but this time there were no cries of cheating and certainly no call for any investigation. There is nothing unusual about him and even the rich now seek his services.
There is nothing unusual, too, about the revelations by Kaieteur News. When the revelations first started, there were the criticisms directed at the paper. People were reluctant that a newspaper fashioned by a young man from the other side of the tracks could challenge the establishment.
Today, people swear by the newspaper; they even now come out of their shells and help with the investigation. Of course, this took time and perseverance. People now question things that they once took for granted. Had it not been for Kaieteur News, the appointments being challenged would not have happened.
The government which once felt that the people had to accept every decision is now opening up and talking to them. Indeed, people get the government they deserve. If they challenge then they will fashion the kind of government that is needed.
And in life I always say to people persevere in what you do. Results will come. We backed off and crime emerged; no longer do we try to bring up the children in our community, because we say that they are not our responsibility.
Wilfred Success persevered; Kaieteur News persevered, and it is now left to the people of Guyana to persevere. Of course some of us did, and changed the way the others in the region looked at us and treated us. This must be an ongoing effort.