NOT MAKING THE CUT MEANS BEING LEFT BEHIND
The report that no student from Region Six was among the top performers at the recently concluded National Grade Six Examinations mirrors Guyana’s greatest development challenge: how to create greater equity.
Guyana has consistently produced some of the top performers in the region in the CSEC and CAPE examinations. Our top students have kept the Golden Arrowhead flying.
The results demonstrate that Guyana is still producing quality graduates from within the school system, students who can match the best in the world. But below that crème lies the real problem. Below that top layer, there are serious problems within most of the regions. Most of the top performers are coming from too limited a geographic span.
This in part is attributable to the distribution of the population. With the bulk of the population residing in Regions Three and Four, one expects that schools in those regions would dominate national and regional examinations.
But something is seriously wrong when a region like Region Six was not represented in the list of top performers in the Common Entrance this year, and when for many years now it has only managed a few within the bracket of elite performers.
It represents a serious crisis within the educational system and one that shows a failure of policy. The cry now must be for a revamping of the system.
The situation in education mirrors national development. Guyana has since 1989 been pursuing a neo-liberal model of development. This model has brought progress to all regions of Guyana. It has sustained growth and led to the rising of all economic classes. It has however to a much less extent been able to reduce the inequality gap.
The inequality in performance with the educational system needs to be addressed urgently because education is for the poor and the escape route out of their deprivations.
There is no doubt that the system has improved. But when it comes to the performance of students, the out-of- town regions continue to lag behind.
Since the Donald Ramotar administration took office very little new policy changes have been initiated. Policy changes have to be driven by data and this is perhaps the one area where greater attention needs to be paid. If only limited data is available about school attendance, performance and teacher qualifications, then the policy makers are hamstrung and forced to act on intuition rather than verifiable facts.
Data collection in education should drive policy. It should not have taken the results of the National Grade Six Assessments for the government to realize that a serious problem resides in the delivery of education.
The government can boast about the improvements in education. In so doing it can also point to producing the top performers in the Caribbean consistently. But below that glitter, there is a serious issue of the inequitable performance across regions and the government needs to address why this is happening.
The problem is not just limited to the primary schools. A similar trend has manifested itself at the secondary level and has forced the Education Ministry to launch a special initiative to deal with schools whose performance needs improving.
Now it should also be clear that there is a serious crisis within the educational system. All the national strategies that have been developed have not reduced the problems associated with inequitable performance across the regions. A new strategy is needed; one that addresses how to reduce performance gaps nationwide.
The problem may be with the quality of teachers. Many of the top performers at both the primary and secondary levels have related that they went to extra lessons. So the problem may be in the quality of the teaching that is available.
There may be sufficient teachers but are there sufficient good teachers? What incentives are available to retain good teachers and motivate them to help the poor performers?
Even if the incentives can be found to retain good teachers, there is still a problem of how can the system be turned around? How can this be turned around? What can be done?
It is simply not fair to the children outside of the urban centres to be so disadvantaged that each year when the results of national or regional examinations appear, they do not make the cut. Since they do not make the cut they are likely to be left behind.
And when large numbers of students from one area are left behind, there is an even greater risk that the area will be economically left behind because the skills for development will simply not be there.