With a $20.4 B budgetary allocation, the Education sector is well on its way to sustaining the delivery of quality and equitable education this year.
Minister within the Education Ministry, Dr Desrey Fox made this pronouncement on Tuesday when the 2009 National Budget debate continued.
The Minister in her presentation pointed out that close to the concept of quality education, as a guiding principle of the Ministry of Education’s Strategic plan, is equity and inclusive education. As such she expressed satisfaction that the latter is on the list of Education priorities provided for in the 2009 National Budget.
“Quality education, from an inclusive perspective, implies a balance between excellence and equity. This means that it is not possible to talk about quality education if just a few students learn what is required to participate in society and develop their life projects.”
According to the Minister, equity involves providing every individual with the support and the resources required to be in an equal condition, thus benefiting from educational opportunities and learning to reach levels of excellence.
The Minister did note, too, that the personalisation of such support is a key aspect because equity policies are commonly characterised by the provision of equal opportunity for all people, restricting the potential to promote the highest development of individuals.
For this reason, the Minister established that education must be viewed as a facilitator in everyone’s development and functionality, regardless of barriers of any kind, whether they be physical or otherwise.
“Disability of any kind (physical, social and/or emotional) cannot be a disqualifier. Inclusion, thus, involves adopting a broad vision of Education for All by addressing the spectrum of needs of all learners, including those who are vulnerable to marginalisation and exclusion.”
“As is emphasized in UNESCO’s Guidelines for inclusion: ‘while there are also very important human, economic, social and political reasons for pursuing a policy and approach of inclusive education, it is also a means of bringing about personal development and building relationships among individuals, groups and nations’. It is indeed reasonable to think that children who “Learn together” also learn to “Live together.”
As a result, the Minister underscored that the quality of education should not be measured simply in terms of the acquisition of learning or competences, but also by the yardstick of human rights and equity.
She highlighted that some attributes of a high-quality learning process have achieved independent status as part of the definition of education quality, adding that most centrally, these can be summarised as the need for education systems to be equitable, inclusive and relevant to local circumstances as is stated by UNESCO.
The Minister further disclosed that where the access to/or the process of education is characterised by gender inequality, or by discrimination against particular groups on ethnic or cultural grounds, the rights of individuals and groups are ignored.
As such education systems that lack a strong, clear respect for human rights cannot be said to be of high quality, the Minister said, even as she noted that “by the same token, any shift towards equity is an improvement in quality.”
Accordingly, she stressed that the search for equity should therefore be placed at the heart of constructing an inclusive society. She alluded to a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which states that educational equity signifies two dimensions. The first being fairness, which implies that ensuring personal and social circumstances, for example gender, socio-economic status or ethnic origin, should not be an obstacle to achieving educational potential. And the second is inclusion, which deals with assuring a basic minimum standard of education for all, for example, that everyone should be able to read, write and do simple arithmetic.
The Minister explained that the two dimensions are closely intertwined, thus tackling school failure helps to overcome the effects of social deprivation which often causes school failure.
“Fair and inclusive education is one of the most powerful levers available to make society more equitable. Equity in education therefore, Mr. Speaker, enhances social cohesion and trust,” Dr Fox emphasised.
She noted that inclusive education is already a practice of the Education sector in Guyana even as she admitted that a lot more has to be done in this area. “This is evident in the approach taken in the access to quality and equal opportunities which the Ministry of Education has been outlining.”
Dr. Fox pointed out that currently, the Ministry of Education’s policy focuses on vulnerable groups in the society. Thus, while the Indigenous peoples’ education have had attention with conditions in the past, the present commitment of the Government of Guyana is to allow them to participate in all spheres of development and to create opportunities for them to access education unconditionally.
She made reference to the fact that scholarship opportunities for them have increased and they can study both locally and abroad, and in greater numbers than before. Additionally, she noted that there are more Indigenous students accessing tertiary education, while some inaccessible areas in the interior now boast secondary schools as the achievement of universal secondary education is pursued.
School feeding programmes for Indigenous communities through the EFA/FTI, School Uniform projects, training and incentives for those who teach in the interior, continue to contribute to the delivery of quality education to this population, the Minister added.
According to Dr. Fox, in the past what was practiced was the use of Education as the vehicle to integrate the Amerindians into mainstream Guyanese society, thus giving credence to the conclusion that there was an education policy that had a two-prong approach, one policy for an ideal group in the mainstream and the other for a distinct marginalised group of peoples.
However, the Minister categorically established that “This is not now the case and in this sense the Government of Guyana and the Ministry of Education have started the process of inclusive education, where there is inclusion with integration rather than integration without inclusion.”
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