Guyana dumped socialism a long time ago. Apparently someone forgot to tell the Ministry of Education.
Education Month each year involves identifying a theme month and arranging appropriate activities around this theme. This type of observance is typical of socialist countries where there is always a month devoted to something or the other.
This year’s theme is “Transforming the nation through inclusive Education”. This joins a long list of themes devoted to the social objectives of education.
The provision of education is a social function. An educated student population provides social benefits to the society. As such a link can be made between education and development and also, as was pointed out recently, between education and poverty reduction.
The fact however that education has a social function does not mean that year after year we should be emphasizing this aspect. In fact, this year’s theme raises more questions than answers. It begs the question as to just how inclusive education is going to transform Guyana when we already are claiming that there is gender parity and geographic parity.
In fact both of these propositions are questionable. When it comes to parity, the only parity relates to access to education. It surely does not relate to performance.
For years now, girls have been outperforming boys within the education system. This is also the trend in the Caribbean as judged by results at the CSEC examinations. So while there is parity between males and females in terms of access to education, the girls are outshining the boys when it comes to performance in schools.
When it comes to geographic parity, the situation is equally disturbing. It is clear that the urban schools and particularly Georgetown has a stranglehold on the top performers. This has been so for a long time and the overall results also suggest that other regions are lagging far behind.
True, there has been improvement over the years and out-of town schools are gaining ground but one cannot with any confidence speak about geographic parity when it comes to performance.
The problem of course is not with the objective of inclusive education. Everyone- boys, girls, and those with special needs- should be accommodated within the school system. But special needs students need special schools and these schools are present and are being improved.
Where the worry lies is not with inclusive education but with the preoccupation by the Ministry of Education with having a social theme each year to commemorate Education Month.
Instead of a theme emphasizing the social aspects how about a theme stressing the achievement of personal goals and objectives. How about a theme for next year that states: “Being all that you can be through success in education?”
How about the following year having a theme: Striving for personal excellence in education.” And the following year, : “Self motivation as a tool for personal success.”
We have to move away from these socialist themes in education and begin to emphasize personal performance because we are now operating under an economic system that stresses private enterprise which in turn emphasizes meritocracy.
Both our economic and political systems today are based on individual freedom and liberty and therefore the education system has to begin to stress that through personal initiative anyone can be what they want to be. You can own a mansion by studying hard and perhaps trying to get a job in the government.
We should be urging students to be the brightest and the best rather than each year harping to some theme that reminds us of the days of cooperative socialism when the nation was urged to Produce or Perished. Those who produced still perished.
Education will always serve a social function but the stress on education must be consistent in any society with the economic and political direction in which the country is going and right now it is not inclusive education that is going to deliver the goods.
It is the production of students of merit who will want to stay and become the engineers to go into the interior and provide the services for the mining sector that will transform Guyana. It is about building a solid core of engineers which is needed in the private sector.
It is about producing IT specialists in numbers since this is the wave of the future for Guyana based on our developmental plans. It is about continuing to provide doctors and nurses to fill the void in the system.
As such we should be emphasizing the development of skills through education rather than each year speaking about how education can serve development. Education can equally serve development by emphasizing personal development of students rather than its social function.
When it comes to education, Guyana is stuck in old socialist paradigms. And as one Caribbean educator noted recently we are also stuck in the old ways of doing things. All of these things need to change and change rapidly.
What is needed therefore is not wasting the time of educators and students by having to attend events that stress the social function of education. This has been drummed into our heads for far too long.
What is needed is for all those old manuals which are patterned after a socialist past to be dumped and for some fresh outlook to sweep across the education sector.
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