Although the public education sector has been awarded significantly increased budget allocations within recent years, the sector continues to underperform. As the years go by there are increasing numbers of school dropouts, violent incidents, teenage pregnancies, bullying, student suicides, drug abuse, teenage crime, and lawlessness.
This evolving culture ought not to surprise us, as what we are witnessing is in reality a reflection or microcosm of what is taking place in the wider society.
Of all the stakeholders involved in the delivery of education in the public sector, I am of the opinion that the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), whose motto is: “We mould the nation”, is in the best position to assist this nation to change the direction of our cultural evolution by doing much more than it has to develop the teaching profession.
Great teachers are the most critical input in any effort aimed at transforming our school system into a quality education system. And, a quality education system is the most powerful weapon at our disposal that can help to fully emancipate us, and to achieve cultural transformation.
A major development in the delivery of public education in Guyana took place in1976 when all schools were nationalized, and all fees from the nursery to the tertiary levels abolished. This act by the Government of the day heralded the era of mass education in Guyana. To say that this era was pregnant with a host of new and unfamiliar professional and social issues would have been a gross understatement.
It is probable that the most challenging issue was the fact that hordes of children from a vast variety of backgrounds, and unprepared for learning in middle class institutions, were about to be absorbed by the public school system. Teachers in the public schools at that period were predominantly of middle class background, and very few, if any, of them were prepared to deal with the issue of mass education.
One would have thought that given the context of a newly independent underdeveloped nation, the GTU – the only officially recognized union of public school educators – would have been in the vanguard of institutions endeavouring to become development oriented in their modus operandi so as to give added impetus to Guyana’s development thrusts.
After the establishment of mass education, it had soon become evident that new types of professionals with greater repertoires of experiences and competencies were needed in the classrooms of the public schools. This situation, most surely, had serious implications for the several aspects (recruitment, education and training, remuneration, etc.), of the teaching profession.
Teaching in today’s classrooms has become more challenging and complex. On one hand there are the knowledge and literacy explosions, which mean that there is much more to learn. On the other hand there have been tremendous strides in information technology which has spawned the internet, and several social media networks, all of which compete with schools for the attention, and minds of students.
In addition, schools and teachers no longer have the support of the kind of parenting that was available when the student clientele was restricted to middle class families. Further, many institutions within the wider society that assisted in the upbringing of youth have lost their influence, or no longer exist. The widespread expectation of society now is that schools will fill this void,
I am confident that the GTU is very aware of: a) the new non-traditional professional and social responsibilities that confront our teachers; b) the expectations of the wider society as far as the purposes of schools are concerned; c) that existing (inherited) school systems do not serve the Caribbean well; and, d) the challenges of building a Guyanese nation of one people with a common destiny.
Most politicians and bureaucrats, usually, are not very knowledgeable about the processes of education. I therefore, urge the GTU, a union of educators, to rise to the challenge of actualizing its motto (let it come alive!), and to lead the charge to change the direction of our cultural evolution.
Time is not on our side. It must leave no stone unturned in its efforts to improve the image and effectiveness of the teaching profession in Guyana. It must work collaboratively and cooperatively with the Ministry of Education, the Faculty of Education, University of Guyana, the Cyril Potter College of Education, and Civil Society to raise the standards throughout all aspects of the teaching profession, and to reorganize education practice in Guyana
If we are serious about changing the direction of our cultural evolution, and of achieving the goal of one people with a common destiny, then the various crises with which Guyana is confronted demand a minimum of at least five crucial initiatives in the education sector. They are:
1) Policies to attract a higher caliber of female and male candidates (future role models), to the teaching profession;
2) Teachers must now benefit from a university education that is holistic. In addition to a major emphasis on Developmental Psychology, the program must be ecological (emphasizes the interconnectedness of things – how people relate to one another, and to natural systems), generative (reproduces itself through social interaction – especially adult/youth contacts and relationships), and transformational (engenders a sustainable view of the world);
3) Current policies and practices that reinforce inequalities must be abolished. Sponsored mobility must be replaced by contest mobility. All students and teachers must experience success at school, and enjoy better mental health;
4) An Intermediate level should be established so as to offer some protection to pre-, and younger teens from the vices of older teens; and,
5) The school population particularly in underserved and underprivileged areas (Education Priority Areas), should be limited to approximately 300, and 480 students at the Primary and Secondary Levels respectively, and class sizes to 15 students, so as to permit frequent interaction between adult role models and students.
We must accept: 1) that no education system can be better than the quality of its teachers; and, 2) that the quality of the education system is a reflection of the quality of the society to which it belongs.
Clarence O. Perry
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