Jan 14, 2012 Letters
Recent newspaper articles featuring Education Minister Manickchand’s “unbridled ambition towards improvement of the education sector”, and, Dr Henry Jeffery’s (a former Minister of Education) contribution to the “improvement of the education sector” discussion: “Parental engagement can make big difference to a child’s life chances” (SN 04-01-12), make interesting reading, and I take the opportunity to offer some comments.
Dr Jeffrey has made an extremely significant observation: “While improved passes at English and Mathematics are important, I do not believe that they should become the central focus of the Ministry of Education.
This obviously could not be so for a country in which more than half of the yearly school population of 18,000, reach adulthood without any meaningful qualifications, only to swell the ranks of the functionally illiterate.
Politics loves quick fixes…but, education policy must be focused on preventing this level of human waste and in parallel making sensible provisions for those who are already out of the system… The Ministry of Education understands the problem and has the basic policy framework for dealing with it: it is the political will that has been missing.”
With the exception of the last sentence above, I am in agreement with Dr Jeffrey.
I have held senior positions, and consultancies within the Ministry of Education (MOE) during the period 1996–2008, and I am not convinced that MOE understands this problem.
Therefore, it is difficult for me to accept that MOE “has the basic policy framework for dealing with” a problem that is not fully understood.
Perhaps, MOE can seize this opportunity to model participatory democracy, and make available for public scrutiny the 15 policy documents that MOE claims are ready to be implemented (KN 30-12-11). The merit of Dr Jeffrey’s claim can then be better assessed.
I must, also, acknowledge Minister Manickchand’s political skills. The Minister has certainly hit the ground running.
But, I respectfully suggest that she should pause and reflect on some of the things, it is reported, that the Hon. Minister has said. I do hope the Minister accepts my comments in the same spirit in which they are offered. I write as a participatory, and “engaged” Guyanese patriot.
Hon. Minister, like “Finance”, and “Law” (KN 31-12-11), Education is an established and respected field of study. It is possible to obtain the most advanced academic, and professional postgraduate qualifications in the study of “Education” from some of the world’s leading universities (Harvard, Toronto, to name two).
A degree in “Education” represents the study of the ‘organic and dynamic whole’, which is far greater than the sum of its constituent parts.
Further, the way in which education is practiced has far reaching social consequences, and there is an area of study called – “The Sociology of Education”.
Good policy-making, managerial skills, and the best political will, though essential, are no substitute for technical expertise. This is precisely why I will continue to advocate for the de-politicization of education in Guyana.
Education is a paramount national asset, and should administered in a non-partisan manner. Guyana is in dire need of a Constitutionally appointed “Education Czar/Czarina”.
A professional who has the capacity to design, obtain the necessary funding, and implement a “Marshall Plan”, for education in Guyana. I can cite several reasons in support of my suggestion.
However, because of editorial constraints, I will outline two, which in my opinion, are of particular salience.
First, we need to give due cognizance not only to our present and foreseeable economic and social conditions/realities, but also to the wider environment (the region, the world). The need for urgent improvement in our economic and social condition is common knowledge.
For some years now, our newspapers have catalogued ‘litanies’ of woes.
In our wider environment, Guyana has long been part of a modern global village, with modern technology, modern opportunities and modern problems. Therefore, the efficiency and effectiveness of our education system (NB: system) is critical.
International competitiveness is now firmly based on the quality of ‘ideas’ and ‘innovations’ that are generated in schools and universities rather than the office or workshop.
Since survival as a nation increasingly depends on advancements in the technical field (scientific, technological, information), it is vital that Guyana offer all children equal opportunity to develop their abilities to the fullest.
We can no longer tolerate 80% wastage of ability, and talent at the primary level. As Dr Jeffrey points out, this leaves the largest portion of children least prepared for the world of employment, for responsibilities of citizenship, or for active participation (“engagement”) in our emerging democracy.
What is worse, our boys are failing. Males are grossly underrepresented at the tertiary level, but overrepresented (90%) in the prison population. In due course, this is bound to have a similar effect as the slave trade had on Africa.
When the various costs involving loss of production, reduced consumption, loss of revenue in its various forms, increased law enforcement, judiciary, custodial services, loss of life and property, etc., are added up, can the nation afford these costs? Is MOE aware of the factors contributing to this phenomenon? Is this phenomenon well understood? Apart from “daily truancy watches” (SN 09-01-12), does MOE have any proactive policies to counter and reverse this phenomenon?
Second, the challenge for education in Guyana is great. In actuality, there are two interlocking challenges: a) To mould a nation of “One People” with a common destiny; and, b) To build a democratic and prosperous nation with the capacity for sustainable growth and development.
Since we, supposedly, are engaged in nation building, and hope to leapfrog decades of underdevelopment, not only will our pool of talent need to be urgently and greatly enlarged (more shoulders to the wheel of national development), but we will also have to focus on the ‘bigger picture’ (the forest of nation building), and place the requisite emphasis on achieving more encompassing and enduring educational outcomes, and traits of character (caring, sharing, motivation, love for learning, respect for life, delayed gratification, self-discipline, etc.), as embodied in the character of our graduates. I have often said: ‘What you want the nation to be you must first put in the schools. Put another way, if you want to reap oranges, you have got to plant orange seeds. The fruit of education is character.
Many of the social institutions (the nuclear family, youth organizations, the church, etc.), that, traditionally, contributed to character development in Guyanese youths, no longer exist. And, even where some still exist, their influence has so greatly deteriorated, that the Guyanese public expects the education system to make up for the loss of this traditional influence.
The portfolio assigned to Minister Manickchand is huge, and its tasks are daunting. I have no doubt that she intends to give it her best shot, but not withstanding her optimism, she has been given ‘a basket to fetch water’.
The truth of the matter is: MOE does not have the capacity to transform the present nineteenth century school system, whose motto appears to be: “Train the best, and shoot the rest”, into a democratic, and modern quality education system that is relevant to the needs of students, teachers, Guyana, and the larger Guyanese society.
For far too long MOE has been understaffed. Its officers have been starved of exposure, be it study leave, further studies, attendance at conferences, etc.
In short, there has been little, if any, continuing education or professional development within MOE. Further, as far as I am aware, there is a ‘Planning Unit’, and data is collected, but is there any ongoing research to inform policy in education?
I have not addressed the need to ‘restructure and reorganize’. Function is inherent in structure. Nonetheless, I hope I have succeeded in providing a glimpse as to why (in Guyana), technical expertise is crucial if the Hon. Minister is to adequately discharge her responsibilities, and that investment in education would build for us a better society.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to encourage the Hon. Minister to urge caution and reassess the merit of various policies espoused by her predecessor, particularly the importation of Mathematics and Science teachers. This road leads to nowhere. It has been tried before, and has failed to produce the desired outcomes.
There is a better way: “Recruit Educators of Mathematics and Science Teachers From Places Where Students Regard Mathematics and Science as Fun” (KN 27-02-11).
Also, Bill 2008 needs to be reassessed. In my opinion, the draft I perused in 2008 represented a giant leap backwards. Most of the decision-making now rests with the political directorate, instead of the professionals.
If the education is to be democratized and modernized, then decision-making specific to the teaching/learning process, should rest with the professionals and ultimately with teachers.
Only then would teachers be willing to be held accountable for what takes place in their classrooms.
I, most respectfully, apologize if I appear to be harsh.
Clarence O. Perry
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