By Sharmain Grainger
“We want to hear from you about what is important and how you think we can best make them work,” said Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, as she told a gathering of Kamarang, Region Seven residents that their concerns are important to Government.
The occasion was a consultation on the Hinterland Education Improvement Programme (HEIP) venued at the Kamarang Primary School on Sunday which saw the Minister being accompanied by her Permanent Secretary, Ms Delma Nedd, and other regional officials.
The HEIP is designed to target schools in Regions One, Seven, Eight, Nine and some riverain communities as well, all of which have peculiarities that others do not have.
Moreover, Manickchand emphasized the need “for us to talk to you so that we can implement specific things so that we can see you being equal to coastland regions…that is our vision.”
HEIP will be implemented over a five year period and therefore will incorporate a number of aspects including: improvement of the quality of teacher education; alignment of the teaching-learning resources to improve students’ outcomes; improving of physical facilities; fostering of community alliances and the strengthening of management and supervision.
Among the many notable recommendations made by residents was the need for bilingual lessons to cater to students who are more au fait with the Amerindian languages as well as the need for state of the art educational facilities to be constructed in the hinterland areas.
According to Minister Manickchand, as she addressed her attentive audience, it would have been lax of Government to conclude that “we can stay in Georgetown and believe we know it all and think we can make policies for you that will work…that is why we have been going everywhere.”
The Minister, along with senior education officials during the past week, met with residents of Bartica where she also discussed the implementation of the HEIP.
Previous consultations were also held in three of the five sub-Regions in Lethem and plans were made for similar sessions in Region One.
“Education is what we want to talk to you about because we know all over the world research shows that the only way to make your life better as individuals, as families, as communities, as a country is by providing an education,” Minister Manickchand told the Kamarang residents on Sunday.
The importance of education can however, be overshadowed by some developments that will most likely be short-lived, the Minister observed. “You might get a good gold hand (mining) that will only last for a while; you might win the lottery but the only sure way and the only sustained way to do well and to stay doing well is by getting a good education,” the Education Minister categorically told the gathering.
Moreover, she noted that Government has embraced the notion that the education sector is the one thing it must invest in. This however, does not mean that Government has not been directing much needed financial attention to other areas as well, as according to Manickchand, substantial investments have also been plugged into other sectors. Nevertheless, she insisted that “we are very sure that we have to invest in education.”
“It is one thing to be sure that education is good for you and another thing to say that…it sounds great in the newspaper, it sounds good as headlines but then (we) fail to give the requisite money. Not only do we pay attention to the studies that say education is important… as a (political) party we say education is the one thing that will do better for your life, we also match that understanding and that commitment with financial resources,” Manickchand noted.
In fact, she pointed out that from the time the ruling administration came into power it has been contributing significantly towards the education sector.
The Minister in reminiscing on an era when the country was governed by the People’s National Congress said, that more investments were plugged into Foreign Affairs than in the combined areas of Housing, Human Services and Education.
However, by the time the ruling People’s Progress Party/Civic assumed power in 1992 five per cent of the total budget was spent on education, Manickchand added.
But the spending was not limited to this percentage, as according to her, by last year the spending in the sector had mounted to 15.9 per cent of the national budget.
This year approximately 13 per cent of the $220 Billion national budget has been allocated to the sector which translates to just over $32 billion. “Every single year we have been spending approximately 13 to 14 per cent of the budget on education…” asserted the Minister as she pointed to the tangible improvements that have been realised in the sector over the years.
The efforts, according to her, have catered to equity in education which has not only helped to realise better performance on the coastland but in the hinterland areas as well.
In detailing the improvements in the hinterland, the Minister alluded to the increase in schools across the levels in hinterland communities moving from 130 in 1994 to 267 this year.
And according to the Minister, school attendance was encouraged by moves by the Government to introduce a School Feeding Programme, which saw a marked increase in students’ attendance.
Aided by the Feeding Programme, school attendance at the nursery level moved from 60 per cent in 1994 to 74 per cent; at the primary level during the same period the attendance rate moved from 69 per cent to 81 per cent, while the attendance at the Secondary level moved from 64 per cent to 82 per cent.
Based on statistics from the Education Ministry too, the school feeding programme in Region Seven currently caters to approximately 2, 910, and has helped to increase the attendance rate by 76 per cent across levels.
Because of substantial investments too, Manickchand said that the percentage of trained hinterland teachers moved from 25 per cent to over 50 per cent across levels. This is significant since according to Ministry statistics in the early 1990s, over 50 per cent of these teachers were untrained.
Manickchand disclosed too, that unlike years past, both hinterland teachers and students are today able to access Learning Resource Centres, an exposure that has been helping to boost the teaching/learning process, thereby producing value for the money expended in the sector.
At Sunday’s meeting too, the Minister also continued discussions into the Government assured $10,000 Grant which will be made available to each child attending public school across levels during the new school year.
According to Manickchand this support will see the parents or guardians of these children being able to receive financial aid for their schooling. “Our country has been doing better and we can afford to give this $10,000 and we want to give it to you because we truly care about your children and how they do…and we want to give you that help to allow them to do better,” said the Education Minister.
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