Jul 17, 2013 Letters
Four weeks have elapsed since two letters: (J Tekchand, KN June 13, 2013); and, (W W. Alexander, SN June 16, 2013), asking that fuller details of the 2013 NGSA be published. To date, the only response from the Ministry of Education (MOE), appears as a virtual “footnote” by the Chief Education Officer to the report (SN July 6, 2013), of a news conference at which the Minister of Education announced a proposed revision of the automatic promotion policy.
Hence, in the absence of the publication of fuller details, one could, rightly, assume that the remaining results might have the effect of taking the wind out of Minister Manickchand’s “sales” of universal quality education in Guyana.
The following facts are known: 1) Close to 17 000 primary school pupils who took the NGSA; 2) Half of the top one per cent places (about 85), were claimed by pupils of private schools. What is not known is how many, or what percentage of the 17 000 are from private institutions.
However, for the purposes of this discussion, it would be assumed that students from the private schools represented 20 per cent, or about 3 400 of the total number of students who took the 2013 NGSA.
From the data above, it would appear that one out of every 40 private school candidates is represented in the top one per cent, as against one out of every 160 public school candidates. It would, also, appear that the quality of preparation in the private schools for the NGSA is far superior to that which is available in the vast majority of public schools.
If these two deductions are plausible, it may be concluded that a child’s chances of attending one of the top secondary schools is now increasingly subject to market forces, and to a very large extent depends on the ability of the parents to pay for that child’s primary schooling.
Since the fees at many private schools are in excess of $120 000 per annum, one wonders how many of the working poor could afford to send their children to private schools? Further, when it is reported that students from about half of the regions are not represented in the top one per cent, one must also ask where is the universal access to quality primary education in Guyana that is so often the Minister’s boast?
Of even far greater importance, where now is the social justice in our education policies and practices in Guyana that was initiated in 1976 when all school fees from the nursery to the tertiary levels were abolished?
The issue of social justice in our education policies and practices should be of great concern to every patriotic Guyanese. The education system is a major public asset. It is one of the largest employers in Guyana with huge annual expenditures. Given the vastness of this public asset, who gets its benefits is a serious question.
Therefore, there is a compelling reason for asking about social justice. Our education system has the shape of an extremely narrow pyramid – hundreds of schools at lower levels, but only a few senior secondary schools at the top. As students get closer to the top of the system fewer and fewer students are there to get the benefits. Further, since the cost of education delivery increases dramatically as one gets closer to the top, this immediately means that the current unequal distribution of resources in our school system is severely compounded.
What every Guyanese should realize is that money to fund the various social services including education, is to a large extent generated by the sweat and toil of field workers in the agriculture sector (forestry, rice, sugar, etc.), the mining sector (bauxite, diamond, gold), and the transport sector.
Not only is the education system a major public asset now, it is likely to become an even more important component of our productive processes as they modernize. More and more jobs in all kinds of fields have become credentialed, and applicants must have the required certification. The education system therefore, becomes more and more important as a selector, and a key determinant of one’s future.
Our education system, therefore, not only distributes current social assets, but it has also helped to shape the kind of society that we have – a society characterized by rising inequalities, widespread unhappiness, and concomitant violence.
Whether our future society is a just one will depend, in part, on what use we make of our education system now. If education in Guyana is used correctly it will build for us a better society. If we persist in using it incorrectly, it will continue to destroy us.
When access to quality education is subject to market forces as it now becoming increasingly apparent in Guyana, it will operate to include and exclude students on class lines.
This is not only a retrograde step, but also an abomination in the twenty-first century, and most definitely inimical to the interests of an emergent democracy and our efforts at nation building.
The relationship between education practice and the production of social inequality must now become a salient issue in Guyanese education. Social justice cannot be achieved by distributing the same amount of standard good to children of all social classes. Education is a social process operating through relationships, which cannot be neutralized or obliterated to allow equal distribution of the social good at their core.
That “good” means different things to middle class and working class children, and will do different things for them or to them.
The issue of social justice is not optional. It is fundamental to what quality education is all about. Every Guyanese child should have equal opportunity to develop his/her potential to the fullest.
Guyana must rid herself of the iniquitous colonial albatross of sponsored mobility – abolish the NGSA, and reallocate the freed resources to establish a national network of top secondary schools. It is time to set our children free so that they collectively, can use their varied potentials to build for us a better society.
Then, and only then will Guyana be able to claim to have a taken a giant step towards the attainment of universal access to quality education.
Clarence O. Perry
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