Once more attention has been shifted to the school curriculum. This was caused by the recent results of the Grade Six Examinations. Again attention was on the top performers.
For starters, people began to look at the performance of the public schools. The two top performers came from public schools in rural Guyana. That in itself tells a story that one does not have to pay exorbitant fees for one’s child to do well. It boils down to the ability of the child to learn and the quality of the teachers.
Back in the somewhat past, there were no private schools, but there were excellent teachers. When the private schools began to appear, there were public schools that stood out. There were St. Margaret’s Primary and Stella Maris.
People expected to see the top performers coming from those schools and they were not disappointed. Indeed, another public school emerged, West Ruimveldt Primary. Such was the entry of the latter that people screamed, “cheat”. Six of the top ten performers came from that school.
I remember interviewing the children and their teachers back in 1995. I found no evidence that the children had prior knowledge of the examination. But I found something else. I found that people were not keen to recognise the efforts of children from the poorer sections of the society.
Of course, there were investigations that came up empty. The teacher responsible for the success was a Mr. Success. He did almost the same thing the next year and again people suspected cheating. He continues to churn out top performers, this time from his own school.
St. Margaret’s and Stella Maris began to fade. Many of their teachers had moved on to private schools where they were paid a bit more, not much more.
But there were rural public schools. One was the Leonora Primary School. The one year that this school did exceedingly well, there was talk about cheating; again. The school performed almost as well the next year. It is still doing well.
But there is another West Demerara school, a private one that hugged the top spots this year. It must be the teachers with support from parents who have talented children and who have disposable income.
Yet there are other children who have talent but who do not have teachers of the quality in the city. Here I must look at the performance of the schools in the hinterland. These schools try but the Education Ministry must begin to focus on them. It cannot have teachers refusing to be posted to the hinterland.
I speak from experience. I was one teacher who got posted to the hinterland and I do not regret it. The offshoot was that I prepared students who went on to make names for themselves in the country. One is a Minister of Government and a very good Ophthalmologist.
These people may not have been among the top performers at the secondary schools entrance examination, but there were certainly what people call late developers. All they needed were teachers who could help them along the way.
But that aside, there are children who are not academically inclined. The system fails them. It forces these children to compete with those better skilled for academic performance. Many drop out of school.
I remember when Forbes Burnham introduced the multilateral schools. He recognised that there were children who could be good in the technical stream. And many did well, becoming artisans and making a successful living.
Yet Guyana did not continue with this programme. Technical education that was so integral was ignored. In my day, there were many trained technical education teachers. Today, I am not certain that many graduate from the Cyril Potter College of Education, which is for teachers.
We had home economics teachers who also prepared girls for life after school. Guyana was a much better place. The hard criminals were few because they developed reasoning skills in schools. They were taught good from bad.
Today, looking at the age of the criminals, one can trace their development back to the days when Guyana placed less emphasis on technical education.
Parents, too, need to pay closer attention to their children. Not many do so today, especially if they themselves were no big deals as schoolchildren. Although, there are those who insist that they take to their books.
They may not be au fait with what’s in the books, but their insistence that the children attempt to study has borne fruit. Coming readily to mind is the son of an unemployed cane cutter. This lad is one of the standouts .
What is really worrying is the fact that at least 12,000 children who wrote the examination would be ignored. Parents are going to send some of them to the lesser known private schools where the focus is on money and less on imparting knowledge.
I have seen some of these schools operate. They do not have good teachers and many do not pay close attention to attendance, except when it is time for the school fees to be paid.
I worry for these children because so many of them could fall by the wayside. It is not by accident that some of them sell drugs in school. Then there are the young mothers, many of whom are now getting a second chance. People are tutoring them for free.
It should never have come to this.
But Guyana is not unique. This is also the case in some other Caribbean countries. Some wonder why the murder rate is so high in Trinidad and Jamaica. The people wielding the guns are those whom the education system ignored.
Guyana expects oil. The money should be spent on developing the school system. Singapore, a country once as poor as Guyana focused on education to jump-start its development. In the same time, it has taken for Guyana to reach where it is now, Singapore has grown to a First World country.
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